Junk drawers. Not an eyesore because you can close them, but that jumbled mess is annoying because you can’t figure out where the thing is that you need to find in there. Right?
    Because house organizing projects are once again on the list due to the recent cold weather and visits from our family member who enjoys helping with those types of projects, the junk drawer was due for sorting, purging and only holding the items deemed worthy of arranging in a more suitable way.
    The entire task took a few hours because there were items that needed new homes, that needed fixing having been placed there a few decades ago. (Should it be fixed or tossed? What or whose is it anyway?) There were also many batteries that needed testing to determine their fate, paper clips, spare change, nail clippers which seem to have multiplied, and so much more.
    Wow, it was so nice to see the contents of that drawer afterward. I had to open it several times just to look.
    When I was thinking about what to write about this month, my working title was “Cleaning the junk drawer of my brain.” That’s because like the drawer in my house, I have been feeling my thoughts scattered, cluttered and in need of sorting, purging and reorganizing. Maybe it is because the daily tasks outside mostly revolve around keeping our herd fed, bedded and milked in this cold weather and the manure hauled, of course. My part in most of those tasks revolves around the calves, and thankfully, there are not as many to care for presently because we don’t calve our heifers in for a few months in the coldest part of winter. That leaves more time to think and reflect.
    We have turned the corner on the weeks remaining in the winter, although we are in the critically frigid cold part where waterers freeze, our cows don’t want to leave their freestall barn to walk on the outside walkway to our milking parlor in the renovated tiestall barn, and there are other things that can and do break down.
    Our milking parlor, manure system, calf barn and other facilities are showing their age. We made a lot of changes in the late 90’s. Although they have served us well, we are now faced with whether to put resources and dollars into fixing and replacing the worn-out parts or buildings and systems, build new ones, or neither. It will depend on how much longer we want to or can keep doing the work, or if the next generation who would like to dairy farm here. Making big changes would require debt load and a solid plan for success.
    Those are some big questions to ponder, and they will take a lot of brain work to sort through. This is a good time to gather up some resources and create ideas for what is next.
    My approach, which I suppose is from my journalist perspective, is to gather information to consider. I have been trying to update my brain by watching Zoom presentations or listening to podcasts. There are so many. They offer so many ideas, statistics, techniques and details. I have listened to quite a few and maybe that is why my brain feels scrambled.
    Back in the days when educational meetings or speakers at events were attended in person, we didn’t take as many opportunities to go, listen and learn. It can be taxing for us to leave the dairy farm work even for a few hours, no matter how informative and useful the event might potentially be. Now, if you take time to get on the Zoom call at lunch or watch a recording later, the information is at the tap of a keyboard. All that is needed is your undivided attention. Granted, that can be hard to come by with so many other tasks to achieve in a day.
    With all the information at hand, the next step is to figure out what our next steps for this operation could or should be. There are no definitive answers, only varied options, limited funds and uncertainty. Maybe the next steps include contemplating future goals and how to reach them. The wheel spinning of not having an overall plan leads to that scrambled brain feeling. It is not easy to carve out the time to reflect on how to progress, make the tasks more doable or what the end-game should be. The brain work involved is difficult. Yet, we need to get started.
    The good news is that tools, resources and people who can help us with advice are available in this industry. That can give all of us hope and help us to remain positive and moving in the direction of the next steps. We only need to find the time to think, ask for the help and make the next priority list.
    I am hopeful that some of the junk drawer cleaning of our brains can be accomplished before the winter ends and the next, more focused, busy season arrives.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children Emily, Matthias and Leif. They farm near St. Peter, Minnesota, in Norseland, where she is still trying to fit in with the Norwegians and Swedes. They milk 200 cows and farm 650 acres. She can be reached at jeanannexstad@gmail.com.