I was in the calving area with my college student helper, Alma, loading up a new calf into our cart to bring her into the calf barn. Chloe, our dog, pushed her nose into the sleepy calf, rousing her up onto her wobbly legs. Though she was a little too persistent, I praised Chloe for her help as it is what she loves to do.
Just when you think you can do it all, you soon realize that is not the case. Harvest starting, cows calving at a record pace, and World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wisconsin, were happening all at the same time.
That is where we were a week ago. We decided to attend Expo for a short get-away from the farm months ago, because our kids were all planning to be there doing different things. Rolf and I thought it would be nice to spend the time with them. We wanted to go to the National Dairy Shrine banquet held at Expo where our sons were receiving scholarships. Our daughter was there for her marketing and communications manager job in the Holstein Association USA booth.
Attending Expo meant lining up replacement help for the things we normally take care of on the farm and with family. It required me to train in calf feeders for the time we would be gone and for Rolf making sure all of the milkings and feedings were covered with adequate help. Luckily, our friends from California came for a visit just as we headed out, so there were back-ups just in case more help was needed. We didn’t hear about any late-night cow chases or anything like that, although there were some needed instructions for calf milk pasteurizer set up.
As we think back over the years on our farm, many people have been involved with getting the tasks done. Many have moved on, especially the high school and college students who have helped with milking part time. Sometimes they all move on at once, which is how I found myself both milking and calf feeding in the past few weeks. That is when you start to realize how important having reliable, willing and interested employees is. You can’t do it all, you aren’t able to and you are grateful to accept help if it can be found or offered.
Now as we train new people to help us with chores, we find our purpose once again as we explain our daily procedures to others. Our employee manual gets dusted off, and we think about why we do tasks a certain way. We realize things need updating and rethinking, so it is a good exercise to do this.
Eric, my brother-in-law, handles the harvesting for his own farm and for some of our grain as well. He needs a reliable crew for the combining, grain hauling and moving or repairing his equipment. Since we are usually busy with dairy-related tasks, he finds helpers who really enjoy the harvest time and getting out in the fields.
Dave, our 23-year employee, who is primarily responsible for feeding the cows and overseeing forages, takes a few weeks to help with his family’s grain harvest. Though we miss him doing his normal feed mixing and delivery, we know he enjoys harvesting with his family.
Like many people, I suspect, my inclination is to get the job done on my own when possible. As I seem to be slowing down as the years roll by, I have realized that my body can’t function day after day without adequate rest. When people offer their help, I now gladly accept it and think of ways I can help them to pursue their goals. Can I write a letter of recommendation? Offer some advice? Lease them a heifer to show? Teach them some skills or educate about an aspect of dairy farming they find interesting? Maybe they just love spending time in a barn with animals.
The one downside to having help is that I tend to repeat myself in explaining the procedures of calf care even when not needed, as my children point out to me when they are helping. Is it simply getting older that causes me to do this? Maybe. Or perhaps it is just the tendency to want things done as I have chosen. Overexplaining happens. What can I say?
On Google, there are life quotes about help aplenty, but I will include three that stand out to me:
"There is more happiness in giving than in receiving." Acts 20:35
"Somewhere along the way, we must learn that there is nothing greater than to do something for others." Martin Luther King, Jr.
"Leaders need to be facilitators, and help others get what they need." Janeen Latini, Love to Lead. Lead to Love.
    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.