When we welcomed in the New Year eleven months ago, there was a sense of optimism for a new decade, a new direction for our farm and our lives. The view ahead of me was wide open with possibilities, as it is every year. I can honestly say I didn’t really see what was coming down the road. Our view was from the windshield looking forward, and the road was wide open. Now when I glance in the rear view mirror, I see every jog, turn and pothole we’ve been through on this journey and realize I wasn’t driving this bus.
    Carrie Underwood’s first big hit was “Jesus Take the Wheel” where she cries out for help as she loses control on the icy roads and in her life. I think sometimes God takes control when we don’t realize we need help. As I look in my rearview mirror, I see how this year has been divinely driven. There is no way we could have organized and planned everything that put us in the right place to sell the milking herd and hit pause on dairying.
    The view is so clear looking back. When the repair man never had time to fix the stall mattresses this past spring, it turned out to be a good thing. Now we can fix them while the barn is empty if we move forward. When our regular classification schedule fell in August, we were able to have the girls scored without paying extra fees. When World Dairy Expo was postponed, Katie was available to use her job skills in designing our sale catalog and advertising campaign. When the pandemic changed how business is conducted, we were able to have the sale online. Even when it snowed on the morning of the sale, it was like a hall pass from field work for dairymen to take a skip day and come to the sale, to bid, to see the cows or just to be here for us. There is no way we could have maneuvered through all those detours without help.
    I didn’t realize I needed extra help but my friends did. Neighbors dropped off cookies and bars to help feed the kids as they spent days in the barn clipping cattle. Some sent maroon and gold mums to brighten my day in the house. In a way, it was like a funeral as friends reached out to support us as we closed a chapter in our story. I even had three college friends from Indianapolis and northern Illinois travel to help me. They showed up on my doorstep the night before the sale announcing they were here to help. I gave Beth a paintbrush to cover chipped spots on a feed door. I handed Lauren a scrub brush to clean the front barn wall by the barn cleaner, and I left Jane in charge of the dishes in my sink. They knew I really didn’t need their help with jobs, but what I did need was their support, laughter and hugs.
    Mark is slowly weaning off of milking. He has a handful of cows to milk every morning and night. At least he is sleeping in in the morning. It is nice to start milking at 7 but on the back side, 7 at night for a handful of cows feels like overkill. The paperwork on the cows heading to Canada is almost complete. The cow going to Michigan to be a lawn ornament is ready to be dried off and shipped out too. We fed the last of the cow concentrate, so it is time for them to go. As the temperatures start to drop and stay cold, we need to get the barn ready for winter. We need to blow out the water lines in the drinking cups, run the barn cleaner one last time, park the feed cart, shut off the radio and lights and close the door until next spring. Then we can start to take a break for a few months.
    Mark has already found some perks in a lighter work load. When we were first married, he would milk crazy hours just to be able to go deer hunting in our woods. That drive to provide meat for the family faded as the kids got older and they wanted to go hunting. Mark would stay in the barn and let the boys trounce through the woods. All three of them were able to shoot a young buck. Now it was their dad’s turn.  
    As we pushed to finish up fall fieldwork, Mark never had the time to sight in his gun before deer season. He hadn’t hunted in years. Mark was excited to go out. He was heading to his deer stand at the far edge of the alfalfa field when he noticed something moving in the ditch line heading toward his deer stand. He thought he missed his chance at a deer. If he had headed out 10 minutes earlier he would have been in position. He pulled up his gun to see what he was missing. As he focused his scope on the animal, he got excited. It was the biggest rack he had ever seen, yet he was standing out in the open hay field, one movement away from spooking the deer. The buck slipped back in the ditch, and Mark kept walking until he spotted him again. This time Mark slowly dropped to one knee, took aim … missed. The deer took off to the woods. Mark continued walking to his stand in the woods. As he got closer, a deer popped up, wobbled and stumbled back down. It was the deer. He had hit it. It turned out to be a nine-point buck with a score of 162. I guess that is good. I know Mark has provided meat for the table and a new wall decoration to the house.
    Right place. Right time. Divinely driven.
    Natalie, Mark and his brother Al, farm together near Rice, Minnesota. They milk 100 registered Holsteins under the RALMA prefix. Their four children are grown up and all involved in agriculture with hopes of someone returning to the farm. For questions or comments, please e-mail Natalie at mnschmitt@jetup.net.