16 Feb


Running a certified organic raw milk dairy, we have numerous protocols. There are numerous definitions for that word: protocols. In medicine, it can mean a procedure for carrying out a scientific experiment or a course of medical treatment. In politics, it can mean the official procedure or system of rules governing affairs of state or diplomatic occasions.

I like the word, but another appropriate word is practices.

We have three main types of cows on a dairy farm: lactating, dry, and heifer. The lactating cows are the ones making the money. The dry cows are the ones on vacation – having finished one lactation, and now finishing a calf before they start another lactation. Finally, there are the heifers – the really young ones to the breeding age to the pregnant ones.

Each of the three types has different physical needs, specifically in regards to feed and mineral supplement. For example, a dry cow needs less calcium intake, but much more vitamin E and other vitamins to prepare for “freshening” (having a calf).

How do we know when a lactating cow is supposed to go on vacation? We know based on breeding date. We have a protocol for how we breed, how we verify pregnancy, and how we calculate dry off date.

Recently, because a cow showed not one, but two strong “heats” after a breeding, I did not bother to preg check right away and went ahead and bred said cow again. I then marked her breeding date as the later date, not the earlier. The marked date as opposed to the actual date were more than 30 days apart. As a result, said cow was coming up on dry off but suddenly showing udder growth. We immediately stopped milking. and she calved a short two weeks later.

Ouch. I totally botched the management on that one. She had the wrong diet heading to calving because she was still lactating. Also, her udder did not rest long enough.

As a result, of blowing the management side, I am changing several protocols:

  1. I am visiting a 10,000 cow dairy multiple times over the next several months to work on “arming” cows to get better at my AI and placement. By doing this, I also hope to get better at assessing true heat and possible pregnancy cow-side.
  2. I am running blood test preg check on any cow who shows a heat that I find suspicious. This way, while I might end up breeding the “heat”, I also will have quick feedback as to whether she has pregnancy specific protein b (PSPB) and is in fact pregnant. This will help me avoid recording wrong breeding date, and overcomes my failed attempt to detect pregnancy by palpation. Our prior protocol on pregnancy mostly involved 3 missed heats, but with the herd growing, a cow can show heat and not be in heat if her mates are in heat. Cows are like any group housing of girls – they tend to bunch up on their cycles.
  3. I am changing our mineral supplementation program to make sure I specifically address the needs of the three cow groups to avoid health issues. The goal on this is to minimize edema and retained placentas, two issues we have seen that I feel are higher percentage than I would like to have in the herd (zero percent would be great, albeit is not realistic).
  4. We are going to start giving nosodes to our cows and calves to prep their immune systems for any number of viral disorders. The nosode we will specifically add to our program is called “10 way”. Essentially, they are sugar pills that go into the water that cows drink that have been exposed to the “frequency” of the 10 way vaccine. Cows will get the nosode twice a year.

There are so many other protocols and practices we have that we have developed over time that may be subject to change if I look at stats and numbers and realize they are not totally working. In the meantime, we carry on and take detailed notes on outcome to see what change we can effect!

Heifers of different ages

I leave you with this image of heifers on this fine winter block. In the front, we have 10 or 11 week old Danica, on her left is 3 week old Luci, and behind them is nearly 1 year old Anaya.

We are back on Facebook by the way – since it does serve as a good platform for putting out quick snippets of information relative to our activities and what is happening in the market. For example, with yesterday’s snow and very slick roads, the south delivery was postponed until today. Useful information to have, but this is not worthy of a blog post.

We encourage you to “Like” our facebook page. There is a link below or in the sidebar, or you can click here to visit the page: https://facebook.com/GuernseyGoodness

22 Jan

Certified Organic Baby Heifers

Pleasant Meadow Creamery makes certified organic baby heifers! That would be the headline if we were in the news, but really this post is two different topics.

The first has to do with heifers, since they are the best thing on the planet. They offer so much promise. We have a cow named Laci. Laci was bred by AI (artificial insemination) last late winter and early spring. We show her as having been bred on 04/06, and was again in heat on 04/24, missed a heat, and then back in heat again on 05/30.

We bred all three. In all three, except the last one, her signs of heat were strong. She stood mounting, had extremely low milk production, and was active with other cows for a significant portion of the day.

After 05/30, when her next heat was due, she stood mounting once, but that is all I saw, so I did not breed it. We confirmed pregnancy by blood test, called her pregnant, set the due date as 03/15, the dry off date (start of vacation) to 01/15 and moved on with life.

Around January 7 this year, coming up toward vacation, we noticed she was starting to develop anew on her udder, not in production volume, but size. There were other subtle changes. So, we immediately dried her off and reviewed our notes. We reasoned that she must have actually bred on the 04/24 heat and thus the 05/30 was a “trick”. We therefore knew her calving date would be around 02/08. We would barely get 30 days dry.

Unfortunately, in the last several days, it became obvious there was no way Laci was going to February. This morning, at 0730, I took one look at her, felt her tail head, and immediately moved her to the calving pen. By 0830, we had a certified organic baby heifer. Well, we are in certified organic transition and will be certified organic this summer, since we are in year three of some of our transitional fields, and the cows transition one year, concurrently with the final fields.

Dad’s name is Lightning, so heifer’s name is Pleasant Meadow Lightning Luci.

Laci and Luci
Laci and Luci

The second part of this post is about being Certified Organic. We believe in certified organic. It matters to not only claim “organic” practices, but to certify – to have someone look over our shoulder and audit what we say we are doing. First, this certification verifies we are meeting a standard. Second, it catches potential slip-ups before they occur. It forces us to prove out every step to be sure we are in compliance. We are not just saying it.

To get where we are, we first had to develop our own hay making capability. However, we knew we would most likely not have enough of our own hay to supply a growing dairy. We came close this year, but needed at least another 8 tons or so to get us to grazing season.

Over a year ago, we were contacted by a certified organic hay producer in the Missouri River valley of Montana near Great Falls. The name of the ranch is 7 Bar Heart. They have been certified organic since the 80s when owner Gregory saw that the chemical combinations he was using were having the effect of “sterilizing” the soil. He immediately changed course and became certified organic at a time when it was not “the thing to do”. He did it because he reasoned man had been farming that way for centuries mostly successfully. The 70s and early 80s were the heyday of chemical ag with antibiotics, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers. They were also the days we were starting to see the downside of these technologies.

Back to us – we have a lot of hay growers literally right next door to us, so to want to be certified organic is a serious commitment if we are going to truck in hay all the way from near Great Falls. This year was the year I was going to see if I was that committed.

It turns out I am. I care about me. I care about the cows, and I care about you and your health. I care about the earth, the soil, and the wildlife and domesticated life that depends on a healthy balance.

So, we purchased our trailer-load to get us through the winter season. Depending on how much our herd grows, and how good yields are this coming summer, we may have to switch to semi-truckload of this stuff for next year.

If we keep making certified organic baby heifers, we definitely will need truckloads.

Driving to Ulm
Driving to Ulm
Big Round Bales
Big Round Bales
12 Jan

Hazard Tree Removal

Having a large ponderosa pine tree growing right next to the cow barn, on the north side in fact, and with north winds seemingly getting stronger in the last several years, it was time for a hazard tree removal.

The Hazard Tree
Another view of hazard tree
Hazard tree is directly north of cow barn

Years ago, this property was entirely a dense forest with large trees. Within that forest was this large ponderosa pine tree. Its age is at least 100 years old, and it was healthy, but with an interesting looking “crook” or bend about 30 feet up that caused it to lean slightly south. Also, there was a larger branch load on the south, and further up the tree, the tree split into two different tops.

I liked the tree because it served as a great perching point for many birds, including herons occasionally landing there.

When I removed the forest, and in fact after I had built most of that cow barn, which at the time was intended to be hay storage, I left the ponderosa there. I reasoned that it was exceedingly well-rooted, and did not have any obvious defects.

Also, even using a 55,000 pound excavator to push it over requires digging a decent-sized hole on three sides of it, and still takes effort. Ponderosas can be just exactly that well-rooted, especially in a clay soil. Furthermore, at the time, I did not have a use for lumber from it. So, I left it there (this was in 2014).

Since that time, with still a few trees left here and there to provide shade for animals and perching spots for birds, we have been finding that north winds seem to be more fierce than they used to be, particularly after removing the surrounding forest. In the past several years, we have had numerous trees go down, mostly in the bull pen and in the forest line between our north field and the south 20.

Watching the wind blow and really tweak on this tree, I realized that this tree is quite hazardous, and based on watching old ponderosas topple in many locations, especially in the last two years, root balls and all, it became obvious this tree is a danger to the building. Particularly, this tree was dangerous because cows will likely be sheltering in the building when the tree goes down. No tree is important enough to risk building and especially cows. The potential loss is just too great.

So, it became my commitment as of early fall 2020 to remove the tree. Usually, I do these things myself, but with the branch load, the slight lean, and the proximity to the building and potential loss should things go wrong, I decided this was a job for a large machine or professional.

Since I have no plans to rent a large machine soon, I called an excavating company I have had do a couple of jobs for me. He told me he would drop by and give me an estimate at the end of October or early November. He never showed.

Then I forgot about it for a bit, but it was still in the back of my mind. I needed a hazard tree removal! As we headed toward the end of the year, I tried contacting a local tree service. He was very courteous to call me back on a Sunday and promised to drop by within a few days, but he never did. I called him again a week later, and he promised the same, and never came.

So, I contacted a second tree service. I got the same result.

This week, I took a look at that tree and thought – it has to be gone before the next arctic front comes. I texted one of my clients, who owns a logging company. She called her husband, and he came out yesterday afternoon within three hours of me contacting her.

He assessed the tree and said, yep it should be taken out. We decided on a falling direction and a strategy and I asked him when he wanted to do it. His reply, “I have my chainsaw right now!”

Okay. So, we had decided I would also push on the tree with my Gradall, just slightly, in order to act as our insurance policy in case anything went wrong.

While he got suited up in safety gear, I fired up the Gradall and quickly knocked over two birch trees that were dead and in the falling patch of the ponderosa. Then, I put a meal out for the heifer group so they wouldn’t approach the fall line while Alex (Barnhart) got to work.

He made his notch while I lined up the Gradall and then he made his back cut and put wedges in etc. I pushed slightly on the tree and he finished the backcut.

The tree came crashing down perfectly in the fall line. According to my daughters, who were in the house several feet away, it made enough of a thundering sound on impact with the ground that the cats laying around all started.

Alex, with some help from me, quickly delimbed it and cut it into 20 foot logs, and then I thanked him and he left. I finished the job by using the Gradall to push all the slash into a pile, and deck the logs for a future trip through my Woodmizer. Mostly likely, this hazardous tree removal will result in great green pine siding for my future commodity barn at the front of the farm.

All in all, the total job took from about 3 pm to 5:30 pm by the time the logs were decked and the slash piled. We made sure to pile high so the heifers and steers don’t stand around munching too many pine needles – since those aren’t generally good for them and can especially be abortifacent for cows in their third trimester of pregnancy, though there are none in that group currently.

Alex was an awesome guy to do that for me! It took a bit of stress off me. I told him I get very nervous falling tall trees like that around buildings, though generally I have been very accurate. He said he feels the same way, though generally (he did not say this but I know it to be true), he is exceedingly accurate.

Trees are great, just not when they could potentially destroy a building. Do you know exactly how dense and heavy a ponderosa pine tree is? Very. Had it ever fallen on the barn, it would have been very devastating in its effect. I am very pleased to see it no longer in the sky line.

09 Dec

Constant Pressure Pump

We have a constant pressure pump system serving our dairy. I spent the afternoon pulling the deep well pump and correcting a wire problem.

Background: Pump is a 3hp motor connected to a 1.5 hp pump end on a 2 inch drop hose. Constant pressure controller is basically a variable speed controller. The brand of controller we had was AY McDonald Pressure Master (Subdrive 30).

Two weeks ago, after being in service for 18 months, the controller burned up – literally. In a path along the heat sink, there was massive heat damage. Leads blown off their surface mount pads. Resistors blown apart. Surface mount transistors blown apart. That sort of thing.

Cause – unknown.

$1600 later, I had a new Pentek controller as a replacement. It worked great for 4 days, then gave a Low Amps warning and shut ‘er down. Broke out the multimeter and found significant resistance on the yellow wire at the controller, and then at the well head. Not good.

To troubleshoot further, one must pull the pump. The bottom of the pump sits at 300 feet down the well (the true water formation is from 300 feet to the depth of the well at 320. The last 10 feet are screen.

Well capacity is about 150 gallons per minute. Pump capacity is 35 gpm. Static water level is 55 feet. I could have gone much shallower on the pump set, but I’m always trying to project worse case scenario, and set deep if I can afford it (cost is wire and drop hose), which I could at the time.

So, I pulled the pump today, and lo and behold, the yellow wire seems to have done some rubbing. It had a spot rubbed flat on it’s insulation jacket and the wire as of today was non-existent across that gap. Obviously there was a gradual corrosion occurring. This wire seems to be a 12 gage stranded copper. Not my favorite. The drop wire itself is solid copper 10 gage. The black wire splice also has a spot rubbed flat and was on its way to dying the death.

Wire problem
Wire Problem

Lesson: I shortened the wires at that depth so there is no slack and they won’t rub. I am suspecting they were rubbing against the well casing anytime the pump kicked up some torque and possibly had light movement. Just guessing.

I replaced all the splices and found another area on the wires where there were flat spots and put another set of splices there (this is where I did the actual shortening of the wires). Thanks to our exceedingly short days, I ran out of daylight and will drop this pump back in tomorrow and give it a whirl and see if all is well with the new Pentek controller.

In the meantime, being a dairy, we have a backup – our original 14 foot dug well (this well uses a submersible 3/4 hp pump and runs on an old-fashioned pressure switch). Switching from one to another is as simple as turning off one breaker, turning on another, shutting off one valve and opening another.

Lifting the pump
Lifting the pump

05 Nov

Family-Scale Farms are Wildlife habitat

One of the sad things of losing the farmland of the Rathdrum Prairie (or anywhere), and specifically family-scale farms, to housing development, is the loss of wildlife habitat.

Our farm, located in Bonner County, Idaho, is habitat for an amazing list of critters. Since we moved onto the land in 2006, we have seen the list and quantity of critters grow.

Dairy farms make great habitat.

These photos show a Northern Pygmy Owl. What you may not realize is this is a small bird – maybe 6 inches, and one of its favorite meals is songbirds. Their defense against it is they mob it. It has fake “eyes” on the back of its head, as shown in one of the shots. Experts think this is a defensive mechanism to make it look like it is watching a predator even when turned the other way.

Our farm makes great bird habitat because of all the bugs and other critters that take up residence here thanks to the increased nutrients made available by cows. We help them by providing habitat, and they help us by eating bugs and other things. We strategically left trees mixed with the southern end pastures not watered by wheel line so the birds would have roosting and nesting opportunities.

When you support family-scale, and especially organic, farming, you are supporting a healthy environment for all of God’s creatures. Remember, family-scale farms are wildlife habitat!

Northern Pygmy-Owl
Northern Pygmy-Owl at Pleasant Meadow Creamery
"Eyes" on the back of head
Fake Eyes

More information on Northern Pygmy-Owls can be found at one of our favorite websites: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Pygmy-Owl/overview

15 Oct

New Cows

Last Friday, 10/09, we received two new cows from Iowa. They were purchased from Knapp Guernseys, very near Wisconsin.

The reason for the purchase is that demand is outstripping supply, and right at the time of year that grass-fed cows naturally begin to produce less milk. Also, we have three good cows on pre-calving vacation.

I was in one of our retail partners yesterday and there was just one milk left on the shelf in natural. That was a Wednesday. We had just stocked the store Tuesday, and will not be back until Saturday. Yikes!

We do our best to meet the demand, but we’re working with seasons and live animals, and with grass. If we were a conventional dairy, we could double the output of these ladies, no problem. However, it would not be by feeding them the long-stemmed organic forage that they do get. We would be feeding corn silage, sorghum, alfalfa, and a whole lot of each, and who knows what else.

Instead, we are striving to produce the most healthful product possible from A2A2 Guernsey cows on grass and grass hay/haylage. When it comes to production, we get what we get. During the late spring, entire summer, and early fall, we have great per cow daily average production, but nowhere near what we would get in a conventional operation.

During the true fall and most of winter, our numbers drop considerably – just as the days really shorten, and there is literally nothing we can do about it. It’s just the natural cycle. We still think it’s good production, but the industry certainly wouldn’t think so. We have been doing it long enough and keep detailed daily records, and our production is entirely predictable, and that’s all we’re looking to do – meet the predicted numbers. If we don’t, then for sure, something is wrong.

So back to the new cows: meet Tingle and Lovestruck. They’re helping us put more milk in the tank now, but they have to learn to graze and be organic cows like the rest of their co-workers who have 4 legs up on them, many having been born here.


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10 Sep

Wade Rain Wheel Line

At Pleasant Meadow Creamery, being in a western state, we learned long ago that a Wade Rain Wheel line is absolutely necessary to have green grazing 5 or six months per year.

Prior to getting wheel lines, we would have the fields dry out in early August, and our solo cow would already be looking for hay.

We therefore sought to install an irrigation system. It involved building a dam on the creek and irrigating from the creek. This worked to water one pasture, with one wheel line, but only barely because we would draw the creek down after just two or three hours irrigating and we would have to shut down for ten hours to recharge.

Finally, we sunk real money into putting in an irrigation well. To drill and develop the well (which we developed ourselves) cost over $24,000. It was worth it though, as we now have an irrigation system that can water 45 acres and run 24 hours per day 7 days per week week in and week out.

In a normal year, the system runs either 44 or 55 days, depending on whether we do five runs across the fields or four. This summer is a four pass summer thanks to rains as late as July 8. It has been dry dry dry since then, but not on our fields. Every 11 days, we put down about 2.5 inches of water.

We chose to buy a Wade Rain wheel line because for our pastures, the coverage is excellent, based on shape and size, and they were very affordable versus overhead pivots. Furthermore, Wade Rain parts are readily available and are manufactured in the United States. In fact, there is a company in Spokane, WA that makes many of the components for the wheel line.

We buy our replacement parts through Ragan Equipment in Coeur D Alene – http://raganequipment.com. They have lately become quite the small property tractor store, but formerly were very involved with larger equipment and irrigation systems. Now, they call those smaller tractors “boomers” because of the people who buy them, but that is for another blog post.

10 Sep

Darci Calved

Without giving us much in the way of notice, Darci calved yesterday evening at around sunset or before. This is a second calf for her. She had a bull.

Normally, cows give us some advance notice, besides what the calendar is telling us, about their impending calving. Their udders will fill. Their tail heads will show more due to relaxed ligaments. They’ll get fidgety and go through a “nesting” phase.

Darci didn’t do any of these things, other than that her tail head looked a bit more pronounced days ago.

Yesterday eve, with the heifer and dry cow group out all day grazing, I asked our milking guy toward evening if he had checked Darci the night before when he went to bed. He said, “Yes. She was looking strange and scratching herself among the trees while all the others in the group were around the barn laying down.”

The minute I heard this, I knew that was likely a 24 hour sign. I immediately grabbed my headlamp and went walking to see if she was at the barn. When I got there, everyone was there but her and her sister. Uh oh.

I headed to the field. I first walked to the north line, then west, then south along the western perimeter. The grass on that side is still kind of tall, so I use my flashlight to look for glowing eyes. Deer reflect back as greenish, and there were a few sets of those. Finally, my light caught on golden eyes low in the grass at the corner of that pasture. Golden eyes tend to be bovine eyes.

As I approached, I could see it was Darci laying down. I asked her, “are you in labor?” No sooner were the words out of my mouth when I looked a few feet away and there was a bull calf laying, already dry.

Such a bad farmer I am! No farmer should flat out miss the calving, yet it does happen. If she had needed help, I might have been too late to do any good for the calf. As it turns out, all was well.

She got up, and I noticed her sister, Dorothy, a 16 month old unbred heifer standing in the grass about 50 feet away. The little boy made a good effort to get up too, and pretty much succeeded.

Normally, we like to get at least 3 pints of colostrum in them within 45 minutes of birth. They never are capable of doing that on their own, boy or girl (the boys are usually slower).

I guessed he had been out maybe at least an hour or hour and a half. So, I went home and grabbed a wheelbarrow. We use the big blue ones with double wheels, put a little hay in it as a bed and headed back out with my daughter in tow to retrieve the boy and the cow.

I loaded him up and started hauling him in back. We tried to make sure Darci smelled that he was in the barrow, but she didn’t do it and kept trying to go back to his last known location. Finally, we got her to pick up his scent in the barrow and then she followed us calling to him.

I had Amber (daughter) get hold the wheel line sprinkler steady so we could pass by the irrigation, over the 4 inch hose, through the field gate and on to the maternity pen.

The boy was fully mobile right out of the barrow. Darci got water – a full 5 gallons – always a requirement after calving. The cows can be depended on to suck it all down. I then gave her hay and managed to get her to stand still enough for me to hand milk half a gallon into a calf bottle and immediately feed the boy. He sucked it down, and off we went to bed. Darci was already contracting to expel the placenta.

This is a model calving, besides my inattentiveness. Most go something similar to this, but not all. In fact, the last calving we had, about two weeks ago to the day, was what is called a “three Amishman pull” at 3:30 in the morning. That is another story for another post.

The boy

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07 Sep

Power Outage

September 7 – Labor Day – 2020 has brought us a severe windstorm with power outage in the AM hours that has seemingly knocked out power everywhere in our area.

All our South stores are empty shelves and will be until tomorrow.

We also lost one of our last remaining aspens – snapped off halfway up – that hasn’t been lost in prior storms, a spruce tree in the heifer pen, roots and all, and lots of branches.

We were just getting set for bottling when the storm and all its dust hit. We made the immediate decision not to do that, which was a good move since the power started flickering and then went off. We switched to backup generator, but it has limitations on running the place and we have to meter what we run and where.

One day, we’ll put in a big diesel generator, but we’re not there yet from a financial standpoint as far as cost/benefit analysis and payback. Cost to put in a brand new one is over $11,000. Of course, we have had multiple big storms in the last 24 months with at least one day outages if not more.

It affects our bottling, our milking, our cooling, our pumping water. Everything.

So, we meter milking, milk cooling, running our backup well versus the high capacity deep well, and irrigation is off completely until the grid is back. Fortunately the wheel lines had water in them and have held position without getting blown – a significant proposition since they are both mid-field and not staked down.

Outages in North Idaho Today
07 Sep

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