In the early ‘80s, we were told by bankers, economists and a bunch of smart people that we needed to run our farms like businesses if we were going to survive the financial crisis. Farming was not supposed to be a lifestyle. It was a business and needed to be managed with that mindset. Many farms took that advice to heart, and I sometimes think we have lost the heart of our family farms. Numbers are crunched to find the most returns. Cattle are culled by the production criteria regardless of their potential. Some farms have grown so much they require extra help outside of the family. Where does the family fit into the family farm?
    I know this is going to seem off track but bear with me. Our favorite Friday night TV show is Blue Bloods. It is about a family whose business is to be cops. The youngest son, Jamie Regan, is asked why he became a cop. He earned a law degree from Yale and had his pick of law firms. He said, “I don’t do it because of the money. Sitting around the table listening to the stories of the job, not one story was about how much money or how high of salaries like law school friends. I want to tell stories of adventures and take pride in the family business.”
    We do not farm because of the money. That is not our focus or our purpose. Now do not get me wrong, I am not against money. I like to have enough to pay my bills and still support our family. But return on investment is not our driving force to farm. The driving force is passion. It is the priceless incidentals that no balance sheet can calculate that make the return on investment work for us. Listening to Mark and the kids swap stories around our table of the adventures and experiences shared on our farm during their years of growing up are worth more than any high-paying salary. Instead of working away from home, we worked together, building memories and instilling character and virtues. When the kids decided they needed to talk in the middle of the day, they knew where to find us, and we stopped to listen.
    Mark’s career path was set when he was 8. He always knew he wanted to be a dairyman. He was able to take his passion and create a life for himself and his family. I always knew I wanted to be a farm wife who worked beside her husband and raised their children together on the farm. Our hearts found their way to home. Now it is time for our children to find their hearts’ home.
    My dad always said there is a much bigger world beyond the end of the farm gate. We made sure our children took the opportunities to explore beyond our farmyard as they searched for their passion. Then we let them go. All four have found careers in agriculture. Jonathon is a dairy agronomist for a cooperative. Michael is a genetic analyst. Katie tells the stories of World Dairy Expo. Austin is learning different ways of dairying in South Dakota. They all loved growing up on the farm, but they also recognize the commitment and sacrifices we have made. They do not know if they are ready to take that leap right now. They do not know if their hearts are calling them home. Yes, farming is a business, but it is also a passion that drives you through the tough times and rejoices in the small details.
    With that in mind, we have to take a step back and hit pause. We recognize we cannot keep our business going the way it is without extra help and it is time. It is time to see what is beyond the end of the driveway after 5 p.m. Our passion continues to be cattle and family, but it will take on a different look.
    Forty-three years ago, Mark bought a big black cow on a herd sale when he was in high school. This was the start of his adventure story. In October, the story will come to a close as we host our own herd sale, giving someone else the opportunity to find the cow that will nurture a passion for adventure and a lifetime of stories.
    Like I said, we are only hitting pause for now. We are going to sell the milking herd and springing heifers but keep the calves and yearlings. Neither one of us can imagine life without some cattle around the farm. There will be chores and animals to feed, but we will not be able to use the excuse of milking time to skip out on events. We could actually go somewhere, but the pandemic seems to have put a limit on that plan. So, I guess we will have to stay around home, and Mark can finally start working on the honey-do list I have been writing for the past 30 years.
    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.