Finally, the month of October has arrived. I have been awaiting this month, as I love the hustle of harvest season and am anxious to get the corn and soybeans harvested and fields worked before the baby arrives. Besides harvest, I have been anticipating the extra help on the farm from a couple boys who are on their fall break from college and my cousin, MaKenna, who spends her MEA break helping us. In my office, I had a long list of tasks for MaKenna to help me with during her four days at the farm.
    Since the rain and snow kept us out of the fields, we took advantage of the downtime by getting projects done. The boys helped my dad put up the freestall barn curtains, power wash and put away equipment, and numerous other tasks I was not able to help with. The week of MEA break may have started out with snow on Sunday, but we still managed to be productive, with Nick helping me clean all the heifer pens Monday morning and Kaleb hauling the manure pile on Tuesday morning. With these tasks accomplished, I was ready for MaKenna to come on Wednesday and help me tackle my to do list while my dad and uncle started in the fields.
    MaKenna’s first project was to help me burn garbage. I quickly realized my speed of getting in and out of the skidloader was slowing us down, so I taught her how to drive the skidloader. It is certainly a feeling of excitement watching my city-girl, 16-year-old cousin beaming with pride as she drove the skidloader around the farm. By noon we had finished up with garbage and a few other tasks, so we headed to my parents’ house for lunch. As we ate with my parents, I went over our schedule for the afternoon and the rest of the week. I was set on getting things done.
    As we finished eating, Dad got a phone call from my brother Joe telling him Kaleb had been involved in a bad farm accident. I sat in shock, silently praying the rest of the afternoon that he would be OK, praying it was not as severe as it sounded. As I did chores that night, I had a bad feeling, the kind of feeling when you know bad news is coming. I heard my phone beep with a new text message. I opened it and the tears started flowing.
    Kaleb was much more than a hired hand to us. I had babysat him, he was in my younger brother’s grade, he lived a couple miles down the road, and our families were close. Working with him, he challenged me, always in a hurry, always having a comeback when I tried to joke with him, and rolling his eyes when I would tell him to be fussy, rolling up a hose in a perfect circle, picking up spilled feed and putting it back in the bunk or washing the door on the skid loader. We made each other better at our jobs.
    The following morning, I laid in bed, trying to fall back asleep, praying it was a bad dream and Kaleb was not really gone. After morning chores, my dad and uncle joined the crew of neighbors helping with harvest and chores at Kaleb’s grandpa’s farm, and I got busy making lunches for everyone. We had lifted some burdens off of his family’s shoulders, but the impact of this tragedy cut deeply into their hearts.
    Amidst the pain, I remember the words one of my mentors told me, “You have to be a farm-first family or a family-first farm.” She explained this as either the farm takes priority over family, or family takes priority over the farm. The longer I dairy farm, the more confident I am that being a family-first farm suits us best. Taking time to help out the neighbors cost us a valuable day of harvesting our own crops. Taking time to help them meant chores time got rushed. I did not have extra help to catch a cow that needed to be examined. I cut my list for the hoof trimmer in half, and my to-do list got abandoned. None of this matters, because at the end of the day having my family matters far more than the farm. The pain I feel watching Kaleb’s family grieve is more intense than the anger I feel after opening our milk and cull cow checks. We will get our crops in, I have caught up on taking care of my sick cows, I will schedule another hoof trimming appointment, and if this baby stays put another three weeks, I will get my to-do list done.
    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.