Well, it is that time again. As the first light of the day crests the eastern horizon, the robins welcome the morning with a sweet serenade. It is spring time. A time of new beginnings. A fresh start on a continuous journey. A perfect time to start milking cows again.
    After hitting the pause button on our milking operation in October, Mark and I have hit the play button in time for a spring launch. Mark was not quite ready to walk out of the barn for good last fall. Not yet. He enjoys working with good cows and developing strong family lines. So, we held back some of our bred heifers and youngstock for a spring reboot.
    Starting back up in production is kind of like starting over with a new baby. Our first three children were only 18 and 17 months apart, a very tight calving interval. We were in the throes of caring for one baby when the next one arrived. We never really got out of the baby routine. Then we took a break between Katie and Austin. It was only 22 months, but for me, it felt like I was starting all over again, pulling out all the baby stuff again and adjusting to a new routine. That is what this feels like as we start back up in milk production.
    Our first heifer calved in mid-March with a heifer calf. We are off to a great start. I named our new addition Ralma Lambda Delta Dawn, as the dawn of a new adventure. It was exciting to be back in the barn. The only thing living in the barn these past three months have been the cats. It looks like we only lost Mark’s favorite cat Misty this winter. Otherwise, the cats have patiently been waiting for the return of fresh milk in their dish. They will now have to give up the straw cart as we start the routine of bedding cattle in the barn. Within a week, we had four fresh heifers milking. We are running 75% bull calves, so some things have not changed much.
    Starting back up in the barn has been interesting. You forget all the little things that have to be in working order before you can start milking. The waterlines have to be opened and the cups filled. Fingers crossed we will not flood the barn from stuck valves. Greasing up the feed cart, mixer and conveyors. Restocking the milking supplies of cleaners, towels and filters. Opening up silos and filling concentrate bins. Then, the big hurdle: passing inspection.  
    On Monday morning, our yard was alive once again with all the people who help us keep the farm running. The feed truck pulled up to the bin to unload a fresh batch of concentrate. The dairy supply truck backed up to the milkhouse to restock milking supplies. The A.I. technician made a service call. The cooperative fieldsman popped in to make sure everything was in shape for the inspector.  
    The nice thing about taking time off from milking was that we could finally make repairs and improvements in our milkhouse to appease the milk inspector. Once the cold snap in February broke, Mark was able to put a fresh coat of paint on the ceiling and doors. Because the milkhouse was offline, the floor was staying dry. A perfect time to repair some rough spots where cleaners and acid had deteriorated the cement flooring. Once we were done scrubbing down the walls and the stainless-steel bulk tank, we stepped back to marvel. The milkhouse never looked so good. The milk inspector agreed. We passed with flying colors and can start shipping milk once again.
    As we planned for our sale in October, we realized we would need more than just a few fresh heifers to produce enough milk to reach the paddles in the bulk tank in the spring. Austin worked out a plan with a college buddy from Wisconsin to house and milk 10 of our cows while we were offline. As traffic was starting to flow into our farm yard Monday morning, Mark pulled out with the truck and trailer to bring our cows home.
    After our short break, it feels good to start back up in a familiar routine but with a chance to start new habits. “Just because we have always done it this way,” won’t fly anymore. We know we can do things differently now. The cycle has been broken. We can now try new ideas and incorporate new procedures. We just have to keep two things in mind.
    – Never be afraid to try something new. Remember amateurs built the ark and professionals built the Titanic.
    – Life is too short to milk ugly cows.
    Here is the ultimate question. “Is there life after cows?” We have been to the other side and have come back to say … not yet. Yes, there is a life after milking cows, but we’re not quite ready to journey down that path. For the last three months, we have found time to catch up on fun projects we never seemed to have the time for. But those projects are coming to a close, and we need something else to do, so why not milk cows again? Mark’s passion is working with cows. I enjoy it too, and I am with him every step of the way. There was a line in our marriage vows about through thick and thin, or was it through mud and muck and green pastures?
    We may need to push each other forward some days. On other days, we wait for one of us to catch up but at least we are heading down the path together. We do not know where we are heading. Right now, this adventure is not about the destination but the journey we share. I know not having a plan will drive some business experts crazy, but we are fortunate at this time in our lives we can take the scenic route on our life journey. Here’s to a bulk tank of fresh milk.
    As their four children pursue dairy careers off the family farm, Natalie and Mark are starting a new adventure of milking registered Holsteins just because they like good cows on their farm north of Rice, Minnesota.