Doors are opened wide as we welcome home family and friends this holiday season. It could be called an open door policy where all are welcome. That has certainly been the case around our farm these past few weeks as we welcome home family members and new friends.
It all started with an audit. Not a visit from the IRS but a third-party audit for the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program. We were one of 11 patrons who were randomly selected to be audited. Our field representative Nicole assured us it would be very easy. We were already used to welcoming visitors to our farm, and our FARM binder was all in order. It was just going to be a matter of checking all the boxes.
When Nicole and Colton, the auditor from Pennsylvania, arrived on Wednesday morning, it was already one of those days. The barn cleaner broke, again. The cattle weren’t bedded or brushed off when they pulled in the yard. Nicole assured me he wouldn’t hold that against us, but he did note it on his report. Did I mention it had also rained for the past couple of days, so everything was pretty muddy? He noted that in his report too. I figured we would start the audit reviewing the youngstock, hoping to give the guys some extra time to get things done in the barn.
The audit wasn’t about numbers and finances. It was an independent audit of the protocols and practices we use on our farm to take care of our animals. The consumer is demanding assurances of good animal care in the production of their food. The FARM program was developed to meet those needs and allow us to use the best practices on our farms. I have to snicker. If we weren’t taking good care of our cattle, we would not be in business for very long. It is in everyone’s best interest to treat our cattle well.
Colton started with the calves in the domes. He popped his head in every dome to inspect each calf. He noted how well they were bedded and if they had fresh water and feed available. Good thing he came before the temperatures dropped and the water pails tend to freeze between feedings. He walked through the heifer lot looking for mobility issues and body conditions of each animal. So far so good.
By this time, the guys were just about done cleaning and bedding the milking barn. Colton wandered up and down the main aisle and feed alleys inspecting each animal for cleanliness, body condition, broken or docked tails, bruised knees or swollen hocks. He was looking at many of the same things as a classifier would but in a completely different way. It was hard to read him. I pretty much know how a classifier is going to score our cows, but I had no clue how we were doing with the audit. Our animals passed with flying colors. Then, it was time for the interview.
Gathered around the kitchen island, with plates of pumpkin crunch cake and glasses of milk, we started talking. It was a very comfortable conversation and Colton seemed to relax. He was feeling right at home. After all the boxes were checked, we passed. The consumer can take comfort in knowing we are treating our animals well.
To me, it seems strange that we have to prove what we are doing. It is just common sense. We have nothing to hide. That is why we have an open door policy. All are welcome on our farm and in our home.
Our door is always open. Young friends on a long trip will make a pit-stop at our place. They know there is always a bed waiting for them. Sometimes, it is quite a surprise to discover an extra person in the house the next morning, but I’m glad they feel right at home.
Michael came home with a couple of co-workers for the last weekend of deer hunting. Guiddo is from Holland, and Mary is from Ireland. They had never hunted white tail deer and were up for a new and cold adventure. They got to the house long after we were in bed asleep and slipped out in the morning before I was up.  
Once I was done with my morning chores, I headed back to the house to start making breakfast for us and our guests. Jonathon sent me a text asking if the kids could play at the farm while he and Libby went on a Christmas run. Of course. A Saturday at the farm playing with the grandchildren is a perfect day.
The hunters and the little ones all arrived at the house at the same time. It was total family chaos. Mary and Guiddo fell right into the rhythm of our crew as they became the newest members of our family. That night, we sat around the dining room table eating pizza and learning about their jobs as a reproductive physiologist and technology acquisitionist. By the end of their visit, they were homesick for their families but so glad to have a new place to call home.   
As we said goodbye to all our company and family members, we reminded them of our open door policy. Just like the end of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Come on back now, ya’ hear.”
The door is always open.
    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.