Vacation. It's a concept that evokes uncontainable excitement in children and equally as much stress in parents. Especially parents who are also dairy farmers.
But, despite the stress that comes from preparing to be gone from the farm, we do it anyway. And once we finally leave the yard, the stress is replaced with excitement of our own.
Some would call our recent trip to southeastern Minnesota to attend a conference more of a working vacation than a true vacation, but, for us, any time spent away from the farm can be classified as vacation.
Here is what I'll remember most from our getaway:
Getting lost. With no map in the van (they're all still in our old car) and no GPS system, we found ourselves lost in the Twin Cities. Well, we weren't really lost, but we were definitely not going the right way. The Highway 52 exit off of I-94 was closed due to bridge construction. The alternate route was the next immediate left exit, which we missed because we were in the right lane. Glen said that was fine, we'd just take Highway 10 down to 494 and jump on 52. But somehow that didn't work. And then we were in a residential area that looked less and less like the right route with each passing block. Thankfully, the nice man working in his garage gave us good directions back to Highway 52. Forty-five minutes later, we were heading south on the right road. Then, right after Daphne finally stopped fussing and fell asleep, Monika uttered the words every traveling parent dreads: "I have to go potty." The trip took a little longer than planned, but we did make it to our friends' farm.
The phone call. We spent the next day hanging out with our friends and helping them with their chores. (Only dairy farmers leave their own farms to go help with chores on their friends' farms and call it vacation.) That night, the phone call came. Glen's cell phone rang at 1:21 a.m. It was our milk truck driver. (Yes, our milk gets picked up in the middle of the night.) In a panic, I woke Glen up. Our driver had called to tell us our heifers were out. In case you didn't catch it, that was four phone calls a dairy farmer never wants to get - in the middle of the night, on vacation, your milk truck driver calling, and heifers out - all wrapped into one. Thankfully, Glen's parents and our neighbor were able to get the heifers in without any incident. Getting back to sleep after a four-alarm phone call was not so easy.
The conference. After a couple days of relaxing (as much as you can with six kids on the loose), the business part of our vacation started. We attended the Precision Dairy Conference in Rochester, which included a day of farm tours and two days of presentations. We listened to some interesting talks on robotic milkers, precision feeding, automatic calf feeders, activity monitors and other precision technologies. Most importantly, we took home a handful of ideas we can implement to make our farm more efficient.
The crops. Probably the most remarkable part of our trip was seeing the condition of fields and crops in that part of the state. I have never in my life seen fields so wet or so many fields unplanted. One field of corn in a valley, seeded early by a lucky farmer, was almost canopied, but between the rows all you could see was standing water. The next field, on top of a hill, was unworked and unplanted. I'm guessing many of the farmers in that area turned to prevented planting insurance. Not all farmers did, though; on our way home, we saw a farmer in the field filling the hoppers on his corn planter. Look at that, Glen said, it's June 27 and he's planting corn.