If you knew my husband when he was younger you probably know he always wanted to be a dairy farmer. In high school he worked for a local dairy farm and was determined that he wanted his own one day. If you knew me before I met him, well I am as surprised as anyone that I am here. I think when you love someone their happiness makes you happy and before I knew it I was encouraging him to pursue this idea. I didn’t know what dairy farming was like then and I still continue to learn how challenging it is every day. Farming doesn’t have a set model you can follow; a lot of farmers are successful in their own ways.
We started our dairy farm on family property and we were allowed to use a portion of the old barn; we installed stanchions and added a milk house. Stanchions are a form of headlock to hold the cow in her stall while she milks. Learning how to milk in a stanchion barn was probably the best for me because my biggest fear was being stepped on by such a large animal. In this environment I had to be right next to the cow, I had to learn their body language and how to touch them without startling them. All of our cows were purchased from local dairy farms and none of them came from a stanchion set-up so we had to teach them how to be comfortable being so close to us as well.
The barn held 14 stanchions and once the routine was learned a lot of the girls had a preferred spot. Before they came in we would put a small pile of grain in front of each stanchion and as the cow put her head in to reach the grain the stanchion would latch closed. There is plenty of room for the cows to stand comfortably while in the stanchion and they can move their heads freely to eat, drink and look around. While the cows stand they are cleaned with an iodine solution, milked and then dipped with a barrier dip which has conditioners in it to keep their teats healthy. We could milk four cows at a time so milking 28 cows (the biggest our herd got while in the stanchion barn) took between 70-90 minutes with switching groups twice.
Housing for the cows was a lot different in the beginning too. Our cows lived in loose housing, meaning they could lay where they wanted in a barn filled with sawdust. Keeping the barn clean was a chore done twice a day and I dreaded it twice a day, shoveling manure piles over a gate and moving dry sawdust around was more of a workout then I preferred. Calves came less often and we always had more bulls than heifers, building our herd seemed to take forever.
The lessons we learned in the beginning did cost us financially and looking back on it now there are a ton of things we would have done differently. From those years we have taken away knowledge. Lessons that wouldn’t have impacted us as much had someone just told us what to do in every situation.
Today as I took this picture I recalled on a few of my favorite memories from behind the sliding barn door. When I showed up for afternoon chores on our first wedding anniversary my husband had set up a picnic in the middle of the barn and we danced to our wedding song before we brought the cows in. That first pregnancy I struggled daily to keep down the morning sickness while nearly every cow crapped in my direction. There were times when the two of us got so angry with each other but there were still 12 cows to milk so we had to suck it up, I promise I only stormed out on him once. Memories are what make these old barns so special and this one will always flood me with emotions.
I think it is important to visit memory lane so you don’t overlook how far you’ve come. Our facility is still not perfect, we have big dreams on a small budget but every year our herd grows and we improve, it is another chapter in the book. I would love to hear about your beginning too!
With Love, Nicole