Category Archives: farming

Now that is what I Call a Winter Storm on the Farm

Yesterday and last night we had a major winter storm. The day started out with light snow. Then it moved to rain. We had over one inch of rain before it turned back to snow/ice over the night.

This is what Jon and Lisa woke up to:

You can see the weight of the ice damaged some trees and a river is running through the back yard. Some of our calves got spooked last night and were out this morning. We are not sure what happened, but the sound of the breaking trees might have done it. Also, our dog, Boo, completely chewed through the wall in our mud room.

A kind of day like today calls for only one thing:

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Murphy’s Law on the Farm

Murphy’s Law states: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.”

What reminded me of this old adage was my father, Jon, taking off the weekend to go to a Superbowl party with my uncles. You see whenever he leaves the farm for a weekend something or multiple somethings will invariably go wrong. It’s a running joke said with only a half smile and cautious glance around that as soon as Jon leaves the farm expect the unexpected.

Our cows are generally fairly well behaved. They seem to know when Jon has left the farm though and that is the time they choose to do their annual escape and visit the neighbors trick. Three years ago they decided to run laps around two of our neighbors’ houses in a figure-eight pattern at 2am for fun. It is a good thing we have wonderful neighbors who weren’t only forgiving but had a blast rounding up 100 cows in the dark with me. Two years ago they went for a romp through a drainage ditch to get to a neighbors sweetcorn patch. They had only begun to start detasseling the corn when I caught them in the act and rounded them back up to put back in. Unfortunately, the poorly maintained ditch crossing I was bringing them back across was not where I thought it was resulting in a waterlogged ATV and a very unhappy me. This last summer the cows decided that they wanted to visit town. Yes, that’s right, they went to town. They must have visited at least 10 neighbors’ yards during the wettest spring we’ve had in a long time. No one was happy with them after that prank. They seemed to be pretty happy with themselves though and spent the rest of the afternoon napping on a hill. It seems no matter what kind of fencing a person puts up cows will always find a way to go have a good time if they really want to.

Cows are not the only thing on our farm that follows Murphy’s Law. Our farm equipment is a far more common offender than the cows who, like I say, are generally a well behaved bunch. We don’t have the newest tractors and implements on our farm so some breakdowns are be expected, however, they seem to occur at the absolute worst times. I’m sure any of you who rely on some kind of equipment to get a job done from a combine to an inkjet printer are very familiar with this phenomenon. We log over 1000 hours per year in our skid loader. Needless to say it’s a very important piece of equipment and without it we really can’t do many of our chores. For some odd reason our skid loaders have a tendency to burst hydraulic lines during Christmas. I could understand it happening once and calling it coincidence. The odd part is that it has happened twice now with two different skid loaders. I’m not talking the little hoses for the hydraulic cylinders that move the bucket. No, those ones could be made at Carquest, it was a big one both times that supplies the drive motors to make the loader go. Those are special hoses and must be purchased from the Bobcat dealer which is tricky during the holidays.

My favorite example of Murphy’s Law as demonstrated by our equipment was the meltdown of our Case 970 tractor’s engine. I started it to let it warm up and came back 5 minutes later to find it wasn’t running anymore. Turns out it wasn’t running because the engine had seized up due to a lack of oil. I would like to say its my fault for not checking it often enough but it wasn’t, it was so much less likely than that. After the local technical college students took it apart I found out the cause of the engine failure was the oil pickup tube falling off the oil pump after 20+ years of apparently being firmly stuck there.

Nothing major has gone wrong (knock on wood) this weekend and Jon gets back tomorrow afternoon. Here’s hoping our luck has improved and it will stay that way. What great stories do you all have about Murphy’s Law?

Tim

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A Cows Kind of Winter

We had our first major snow “storm” of the year yesterday. Ha! Cannot believe I just used the word storm! We had some ice, wind and TWO inches of snow. The ice was really a bad thing, but the snow is nothing compared to last year. Remember this storm we had last winter? We had nearly 20 inches of snow fall in 24 hours.

Nothing like that so far this winter (knock on wood). Things are humming along smoothly at the farm. We only have two bottle calves at the moment and we just sold about ten cows. Chores, milking and all around farm activity are going well (and faster since we don’t have to keep moving snow).  A fellow dairy farmer wife, FarmersWife30, wrote about how hard it has been to blog this winter without all the snow “excitement.” I agree. It is hard when each day is nearly the same: Feed animals, milk cows, move cow poop, break for lunch, then feed animals, milk cows and move more poop.

So no news is good news here at Zweber Farms. To keep our minds nimble, Tim has started a large Tic-Tac-Toe board on the barn door window. Each time one of us passes it, we add an X or O. We will see who wins!

Emily

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Organic Milk Shortage, Why is it Happening?

Where is all the organic milk? If you haven’t noticed yet, there is a nation wide organic milk shortage. The New York Times recently ran an article on the subject. Many of the stores I frequent have put up signs talking about the shortage.

Organic Milk Shortage Sign

One of our Twitter followers said this:

FoodFightersUS I’ve just been reading @ the organic milk shortage. Had not noticed much until today-I checked 2 DC Whole Foods & found zero organic cream?

This isn’t just an Organic Valley problem, or a regional problem, it is a complete shortage of organic milk from every brand nation wide.

So what is the deal? There is a shortage of feed. We don’t have to look far to know that this is the truth. On our farm we raise about 40% of our feed needs and buy another 60%. In our urban area there isn’t much land to go around. We would love to grow more, but it is a constant battle to rent enough ground.

Currently, conventional crop prices are record highs. This is due partly to demand (ethanol and overseas markets) and partly low supply (drought in the South). Growing organic crops is tough. It is more paperwork, more fees (organic certification costs) and a lot more work. I completely understand when crop farmers switch back from organic to conventional. Why would they want all the hassle when conventional corn is very profitable?

So when conventional crop prices are high, organic land gets switched back to conventional, lowering the organic crop supply and raising organic crop prices. Also, when crop prices are up, more land that would normally be put into hay is put into grain. Again, lowering organic hay supply and raising organic hay prices. Once land goes back to conventional it is at least three years until it can be organic again.

In farming we always talk about margins: what is our net, what will be left after we pay all the bills. Even though our pay price per hundred weight of milk (how milk is priced) is higher than conventional, our margins are lower. ie It takes more money to produce a gallon of organic milk.

So why don’t the organic milk company’s raise pay price? Good question. They are. Organic Valley farmers voted to raise pay prices this fall. But we walk a fine line. Higher pay prices for farmers usually equal high retail price. My mom said  Organic Valley milk is at $7.99/gallon at her local grocery store. How much higher are customers willing to pay? We are just recovering from one of the largest economic downturns. Also just under a year ago, there was an abundance of organic milk. There was so much milk, many regions were still on a quota (only could produce so much without a penalty).

On our farm, we are feeling the shortage of feed. Currently, we are selling cows. Thankfully, beef prices are high right now. That means we are culling (selling for beef) our low producing cows. The goal is to try to make the herd as efficient as possible on the feed we do have. Also, our steers are not being fed organic feed. We have never certified them as organic, but they usually eat the same organic feed as the cows. We cannot afford it now. Saving all the quality organic feed for our cows is a priority. We don’t want to loose our certification.

I think many organic farmers are doing exactly what we are doing. Heavy culling is taking place and the hunt for feed is wide spread. Jon and Tim have been searching for affordable feed since late summer, when we realized we would have a shortage.

So the moral of the story? Keep buying organic milk when you can. If consumers continue to signal that they are willing to pay the price, cooperatives will be able to raise farmer pay price, then more farmers will continue to milk organic cows, which will entice more grain farmers to grow organic grains and hopefully lower organic grain prices.

One our Facebook fans wrote this on our page:

I believe that part of consuming responsibly is understanding that you can’t always get what you want when you want it. Everything is cyclical – there are periods of abundance and periods of scarcity, and if we could get back to an acceptance of that, perhaps we could solve some other problems as well. Hope all is well on your beautiful farm!

We thank everyone for their loyal support! It is you that make farmer owned cooperatives like Organic Valley continue to thrive. Hopefully this organic milk shortage will not last long and the milk, cream and cheese you are looking for at the store is always in supply.

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Who is Your Farmer?

Did you know that by visiting the Organic Valley website you can learn Who Your Farmers are? By typing in your zip code you can find a list of Organic Valley farmers in your area. Since Organic Valley tries to sell everything as local as possible, these farmers really “are your farmer.”

Take a look at what we do on our farm:

Visit the Organic Valley YouTube page to tour more family farms like ours.

Emily

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.

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Almost a Date Night-Wordless Wednesday

On Saturday, my parents wanted to take the boys overnight. I was excited to “maybe” get a date night with my husband. He had worked 16 hour days all week trying to finish the first crop of hay. I should know better. Tim did get the “night off” but he first had to get round bales from a farm we lease to the home farm. Of course he asked me to help. Nothing screams romantic like helping your husband with farm tasks.

When we went out to get the truck we had to make sure all the chickens were out from under it.

Loading round bales on the trailer to take back to home farm. Tim trusted me to drive all by myself. Nothing says love like trust.

Hot air balloons taking off from the private airport (yes, private) next to our field. Did I mention it was a beautiful night for a date?

Sharing a magical sunset with my husband, as he loads the last of the bales.

Now that is how dairy wives roll on date night.

Emily

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.

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Dairy Farming in a Storm

Yesterday, I posted two pictures Tim took on Saturday. In case you missed it:

storm, farm, pasture, tornado, organic

cows, storm, pasure, organic, rain, tornado,

We were enjoying a fun day at my parents’ celebrating our oldest’s birthday. Clouds started to appear in the sky and Tim suggested that we should make our way home. Tim doesn’t like to mix feed in the rain. Once we started on our way, we heard on the radio that townships in our county and neighboring counties were under a tornado warning. Hail, strong winds and funnel clouds were being report. Tim’s reaction was “ohh &*%$” , I drove a little faster.

We all know being outside in severe weather is a bad idea, but what do dairy farmers do when you have to get animals taken care of? This particular storm came at the most worse time. It was evening chore time. The first priorities were: getting equipment in, shed doors shut and getting the cows in from pasture. If the animals are out on pasture, we normally just leave them out there. That is the safest place for them. Cattle are pretty smart. They will find a low spot and usually lay down and wait out the storm.

We needed to get our milk cows in on this day, because needed to get them milked. We had no idea how long the storm was going to last and it is safer to get them in early than being out on the 4wheeler in the middle of the storm. The cows must of known something was up because as you can see in the second picture, they are all waiting at the gate to come home.

Once the cows are in, chores proceed as normal. That means, fighting rain, hail, wind and lightning to get everyone fed and cared for. If we know the storm is going to be short, we sometimes will wait on calf chores. But, if not, we buck up, put on our rain gear and head out. I have been feeding calves and seen the barn (200 feet away) be hit by lightning. (Talk about scary).

The safest place for us farmers to be in a tornado is our milking parlor, a three foot deep concrete pit. Milking goes on no matter the weather, we are more reliable than the post office. If the new fences have been put up before the storm, the cows are let right back out after they have been milked. Liked I said before, it is safer for them away from buildings and in a low pasture area.

Luckily, this particular storm just delivered marble sized hail, pouring rain and 60MPH winds for about an hour. None of the funnel clouds ever touched the ground. We know this will not be our last storm of the season.

I am such a worrier when it comes to storms. I hate knowing my husband is out there and not home safe. Tim is a true farmer and will protect the lives of his animals before his own. I knew Tim was frantically trying to get tasks done before the storm hit, so from our basement I was text messaging him weather updates. It really was the only thing I could do to help.

Meanwhile, the boys and I had a good time looking through the boxes of baby items under the basement stairs. It kept our minds off of what was happening outside.

Again, luckily this was a small storm (comparatively). We count our blessings that we were safe. Many others have not had that same fate this spring. We pray for everyone affected by all the terrible storms that have happened recently.

Emily

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.

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Only God Knows His Plans for This Planting Season.

As I type this, the house is VERY quite. Tim is napping and my parents just picked up the boys for an overnight visit.

This week has been crazy busy, especially for Tim and Jon. I don’t think Tim has gotten home before 3:00 a.m. each night and has been back at the farm by 7:00a.m. Monday-Thursday we had sunny and warm weather. These days have been our first real chance of getting in the fields. The weather has been too wet and too cold most of this spring. You know things are getting bad when our semi-urban church had an extra prayer for the farmers last Sunday.

We know that we should always trust that God will provide, but it is really hard when you are a farmer and have 200 plus mouths to feed, plus your family.

Due to our prayers being answered, we have gotten small grains (barely/peas) planted.  Tim got the no-till drill from the Soil and Water Conservation District yesterday and interseeded pastures. Here is a video I took last year of us doing the same thing.

Notice the date I filmed last year!! April 5th, 2010. A whole month and a half earlier than this year. Granted last spring was very early; this spring we are very late, when it comes to small grains and pasture seeding. Fingers crossed today’s rain ends soon and we are able to finish corn planting.

Planting seeds on time insures that we have a long enough growing season to grow our crops. On our farm, all the crops we raise are then fed to our cattle, poultry and hogs through the winter and next spring and summer. It vital that our crops grow well, so that our animals have healthy food.

Much of the nation is facing the same problems we are. Rain, floods, cold and drought (in South West) are making this planting season very difficult. As a food eaters (which we all are), we should all be concerned. If crops cannot be planted, then there will be nothing to harvest. If crops cannot be harvested, then there will not be either food for livestock or humans. Again, we can only trust that God will provide.

Here is to hoping the weekend isn’t a wash out and we are back in the fields next week. Ohh by the way, Tim informed me that our hay will probably be cut next week. There is never any rest on our farm! The boys will continue to pray for Daddy each night that he is safe in the fields.

Emily

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.

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You Think We Would Know It All by Now

Our kitchen counter is covered with farming and agriculture industry magazines and news papers. On average we receive about two-three publications each week. In addition, we receive several publications via email or subscribe to their RSS feeds. The information that is available to process is overwhelming at times. This week when I was purging our counter for the recycling bin, I got to thinking “Shouldn’t we know everything there is about agriculture? Shouldn’t we have this figured out by now?” I mean come on, humans have been cultivating plants and raising animals for over 10,000 years. Agriculture is an old science.

Of course I am being sarcastic. Science by definition is systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation. As cultures, economics, and other societal pressures change, our “observations,” facts and knowledge do to. We don’t live in a static world. Our earth is a living and ever changing thing.

As farmers it is hard to keep up. Culture and society constantly change what is in demand and science is always changing what is fact. Sometimes it feels as if us farmers are caught between a tug of war of demands. One side tell us to produce what the customer and markets wants and the other side knowing limitations of our land, animals and our human strengths. We cannot be everything to everyone all the time.

Research is also constantly changing what is “fact.” Sometimes it feels like science is a never ending circle. Take for example calf feeding. Dairy calves were traditionally fed from bottles. Then science “showed” that calves who drank from pails were just as healthy. Farmers changed their methods (because pails are easier to feed from). Then science said “ohh never mind, we were wrong.” Now science “shows” that calves that drink from bottle digest the milk better due to the saliva they produce while sucking. I can give you hundreds of examples of science that is constantly circling around its self. IT IS MADDENING!!

What is really maddening, is when you invest thousands of dollars in the latest and greatest new findings in science. New facilities, technology and equipment can cost tens of thousands of dollars. A few years back compost barns were all the rage. These barns gave cows the freedom to roam as they please and all the farmer had to do was add new bedding material to keep the bedding pack dry. The barns were cleaned out twice a year. MIRACLE, no more scraping manure every day. The bedding just naturally composted. These barns worked (and still do) for many farmers, but not all. Some are experiencing higher mastitis rates and are shaking their heads at the $100,000 building they put in.

The truth is we humans do not know it all and probably never will.  I know that God and I will have lots of funny stories to swap some day. The best we can do, is listen to what our soils and animals are telling us and do what we feel in our hearts is right.

Emily

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.

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Mother Nature Took Back Spring

Well I guess Mother Nature decided to take back spring. This week feels like an early April’s Fools joke. On Tuesday, the day started with thunderstorms that turned into icy rain by midday. That night we got another two inches of snow. Highs this week are only in low 30’s and that is actually below normal for this time of year. We had flood warnings, thunderstorm watches and blizzard warnings all in one day. Okay, joke is on us. Let’s get back to spring now…

Boo, the dog, looking at the snow and wondering what is going on. (Taken on phone)

For many in the area this colder weather is a blessing. With all the snow we have had, flooding is a huge concern for many homeowners and farmers in lower areas or areas near rivers. The national guard has been helping areas make sandbags and an emergency center was established to coordinate all the flood related response teams. This cold weather is helping slow down the melt and hopefully some water can move down river before more big time melting occurs.

As for us on the farm, the weather is more of a irritant that anything else. On Tuesday, we made sure everyone was super dry because icy rain is the worst weather for the animals. We would rather it be five degrees out than 30 and raining. When an animal is wet their coats are unable to protect them from the cold. Remember from first aid class where they teach us to strip down a person from their wet clothes if they fall in a frozen lake? Same concept.

I hope this joke ends soon and we get our spring back ASAP!

Emily

Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy.  We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com. Connect with us on FacebookTwitterand YouTube.

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