For quite a while now, I have been a writer who does not write, except for countless thoughts that never make it to the page. I do my best thinking when going about the day-to-day tasks of caring for 25-35 calves, cooking or doing endless yard work. Prior to being full time on our family’s dairy farm, I had written for various publications as an agricultural journalist. I started as staff writer with Dairy Herd Management in 1984, then wrote for Holstein World and did free-lance writing for other newsletters and magazines.
    Since that has been a few years ago, I am excited for this opportunity to write once again about topics I hope will be of interest to others who are readers and thinkers about all things dairy. I have been thinking about dairy for nearly 40 years. When I attended the National 4-H Dairy Conference in Madison, Wis., as a senior in high school surrounded by other dairy kids I found my passion for this industry. I had been involved in 4-H and FFA, junior breed associations, showing and judging dairy, but that trip made it click that dairy was what I truly loved.
        After college at the University of Minnesota and a degree in agriculture journalism, some other jobs and several years away from dairy farming, my husband, Rolf, and I joined his family’s dairy operation in 1992 near St. Peter, Minn. We farmed with his parents, Carl and Lois, and his brothers, Mike and Eric. The dairy is now managed by Mike, Rolf and I, with Eric doing custom cropping for the dairy. We milk 200 Holsteins and farm 650 acres of alfalfa, corn, peas and sometimes small grain or soybeans.
    Our children are Emily, 20, Matthias and Leif, both 18. All three will be attending the University of Minnesota this fall. Mike, Rolf and I will be busy doing all of the chores. However, we will be less busy attending sporting events and other activities. It will be a big transition for our family.
    Emily serves as 64th Princess Kay of the Milky Way. She has been detailing her many and varied activities in a monthly Dairy Star column. Our sons have been busy graduating from high school, filling out scholarships, choosing a college, going to orientation and the list goes on.
    All of these great things going on for our family have yielded reflection on my past and our children’s future in the industry. I cannot help but realize how many people in the dairy industry have mentored me and now mentor my children. There are many examples when I stop to ponder all who have influenced me.
    There is the 4-H leader who encouraged me to fill out records, try out for the judging team and drove us to Junior Holstein Winter Campouts. There is the chaperone of the dairy conference trip who is now an agricultural lender at our bank. There are people I have reconnected with at fairs and shows I have attended this summer as I have gone with Emily to some of her Princess Kay events or at Holstein shows when helping the boys with the lunch stand.
    It is easy for any dairy farmer to stay home and work (and of course, it is often necessary), but if you can steal away even for a few hours to sit on the bleachers at a show, attend a farm tour or stroll through a county fair, it is so worth it to chat with an old friend or to make a new one.
    Mentors for my children are family, neighbors and friends. Others are FFA advisors/4-H staff/leaders who encourage and guide them through contests, events and conventions. So too are coaches and teachers, and now college professors, advisors and others. Each dairy group has supportive individuals who reach out and give good advice.
    Mentoring others is fulfilling. You can reach out to younger dairy farmers who look for guidance. We lease dairy animals for 4-H members to show and help them connect with our industry.
    I appreciate the people who have been good friends and advisors to me and to my family. You all have them in your life, too. Do not forget to thank them and to take time to reconnect. The dairy circle is a strong and resilient one. It is filled with people who care, want to see others succeed and want to simply do the best job possible every day with our cows, land and people we work with.
    Jean dairy farms with her husband, Rolf, and brother-in-law, Mike, and children, Emily, Matthias and Leif.  They farm near St. Peter, Minn., 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.