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.

Darci
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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09 Feb

Raw Milk Deal

National Public Radio’s Planet Money program recently did a 19 minute broadcast entitled Raw Milk Deal. They actually did a good job with it. We encourage you to give it a listen:

https://www.npr.org/2020/02/07/803780511/episode-970-raw-milk-deal

We, Paul and Debra, had a similar start to our Raw Milk Deal here in North Idaho. It started with a family cow in 2011. Soon, we had friends asking for milk. Then more friends asked. We then needed to get a second cow, and soon we were in the local natural foods store.

We liked the prospect of the business, and people loved the milk. I mean – they LOVED the milk. So, we decided to continue expanding.

There was competition though, and they started slightly before we did and grew fast. Like the other dairy in the NPR story, the competitor went out of business in fall 2017 and left a gaping hole in the local supply. They closed their doors abruptly and unceremoniously.

Being on a certain growth trajectory, there was no ability to immediately fill the void. There were lines at the couple stores we were in, with customers clamoring for our milk on delivery days.

The stores set a per customer limit on what each could purchase in order to leave some for the others.

Soon, we were able to fill the demand in the stores we were in, and then added new stores. We are now in 10 stores, going on 11 (Super 1 Foods in Oldtown opening this spring). We will stop there, for now, and concentrate on always producing the absolute best milk on the planet for our very loyal customer base.

Like the NPR story’s Mark McAfee and Organic Pastures, we provide raw milk from grass-based cows, and we are in transition to certified organic not only on the fields, which are mostly now certified, but also on the end product.

Unlike the story’s dairy, we are committed to A2A2 only genetics, and to Guernsey cows – which simply produce the best tasting and component milk out there, bar none.

We don’t stop there though. Instead of nasty plastic “jugs”, we bottle in beautiful reusable glass bottles. We thank our retailers for being willing to carry this, and take the bottles back. It’s a big deal, as we are the only milk in many of their stores in returnable glass bottles. We do it because glass is simply the best, and the customers want it this way!

18 Jun

Wrapping Haylage Bales

At Pleasant Meadow Creamery, use a Tubeline TL1000R bale wrapper for wrapping haylage bales.

Information on this particular wrapping machine can be found at https://tubeline.ca/products/wrappers.php

This post links our two-part video series on how we prep the Tubeline for wrapping, and then wrap the bales.

We have been wrapping bales for at least several years, and the cows love the feed it produces. Furthermore, wrapped bales are easier to store, since they can just sit outside on the ground no matter the weather.

When it is time to use a bale, we just pick it up with a bale spear, lift it a couple of feet off the ground, and cut the opposite side of the wrapper from the spears in a “+” pattern. We then pull the plastic back off the end and drop the bale on the ground on its end. We pull the plastic completely off and then start unwrapping the net wrap. We leave just a couple layers of net wrap on the bale and transport it to the bale feeder.

After dropping in the bale feeder, I jump on top of the bale and finish the unwrapping of the net wrap from the top. Usually the cows are already trying to tear into it at this point.

One of my favorite scenes in life is standing on the top of a bale completely surrounded by cows. I love looking down on them happily munching.

If you own cows and make hay, we highly encourage you to consider wrapping haylage bales.

24 May

We will not underprice

Pleasant Meadow Creamery was formed out of a love for good, high quality, Guernsey milk. We will not underprice our products.

Guernseys used to be the number 2 ranking cow in the US as far as quantities of cows went. As Americans demanded more from a cow, the Holstein-Friesian began its rapid ascent and modification, and the Guernsey fell out of favor. Americans love big production on anything.

However, we believe Guernseys produce a superior product and, in fact, independent lab testing by a fellow dairyman of ours confirms that Guernseys, for several traits, produce a superior milk. This is one reason we will not underprice for Guernsey Goodness.

A superior product deserves a livable price. For this reason, we will not underprice.

This could just have been as easily titled – why we cannot under price. Just doing a little blogging when I see prices of milk in other markets to the west (higher to much higher), or when I see some people attempting to produce and sell much lower, at this scale (less than 20 cows), or when I see people jumping at the chance to buy cheaper milk 30 miles away from them, that’s not as clean, etc.

I hope you’ll give this a read. I am not aspiring to be the next Joel Salatin. No time for that. Too busy farming. But I do have thoughts on the subject, and I am starting to gain valuable experience. Sustainable farming is a partnership between the consumer and the farmer. It is me helping you to understand. How do we pay a fair wage? How do we have a clean grade A facility and not too much debt? How do we pay for the reefer delivery van and the $3000 unexpected tractor repair bill right before haying season? How do we deal with and/or replace the unexpected dead cow (and yes, sadly, they sometimes die), and they are worth so much!

How do we compete against other, well-meaning, locals who either do not have the numbers acumen or experience to understand their $3 milk is a money loser for them. They may be content to lose money, but in the process, they hurt those of us who may actually want to serve the local community this superior product, reliably, throughout the whole year, not just during “spring flush” or when ole Bossy is in her first hundred days of her two year lactation.

Look at the local landscape. Do a Google search on the raw milk dairies throughout Idaho, or Washington. Do you know how many of them have gone out of business in the last 5 years? Did you know that there is a 90 percent or greater chance of each new one going out of business in the next five years? That means a new one today most likely will not be here in five years, and it’s not just the numbers that are going to push them out – it’s the harsh reality of the lifestyle. It take a special kind of person to do this. What looks good on paper is very different when you are actually doing it, and it’s even more different when you’re losing money the first five years. How would you feel losing money and not having had a day off in over a year? We’re not just talking 8 hour working days either. It starts early in the morning and ends with your blog post at 10pm.

And how do we do it without government subsidies, all the while competing against milk that is heavily subsidized and is putting the very farmers who produce it out of business?

In America, it used to be a family could support itself off 20 cows. In fact, not only could they support themselves, but they could do quite well. Though, unlike today, all members of the family had to work, contributing to the common wealth of the family.

These days, most dairies that milk cows are losing money, and have been for 4 years. There is no hope in the near future this will turn around. In the meantime, dairy farming families are selling out by the hundreds every year.

By the time prices come back up above production costs, most smaller, family dairies will be gone. With them, will disappear rural landscapes, and many other jobs that were supported by local, family farms.

Being a CPA, I’ve studied the economics of dairy extensively, and I have experience to back up my cost estimates and pricing calculations.

Our milk, at the wholesale price, is priced to produce up to a 20 percent profit margin for 20 cows producing, and all fluid milk produced sold. On gross revenues of $200,000, this means the owner would make just $40,000 profit, and there would be one or two well-payed employees with employee housing. That profit number is a little lower than I’d like to see, and that is with making all your own hay, but the reality is the costs of everything are high.

We will not underprice because:

  1. We use a lot of electricity in winter and summer. We have coolers to run, compressors to run, wheel line irrigation to run, etc. The list is extensive and our power bills are easily in the $500 per month range for much of the year, and over $1000 during irrigation season.
  2. The equipment we use is very expensive. A good used tractor is at least $40,000. A baler – at least $20,000. A good manure spreader (which is critical to our operation) – at least $20,000. The land itself is not cheap. The buildings, which we build ourselves, cost in the tens of thousands in materials alone, and the labor is thousands of hours per building.
  3. Repairs and maintenance. We took a tractor in for maintenance recently. It had blown a critical component in the front wheel drive portion of the 4 wheel drive. Parts alone are $2000, and the labor is $100 per hour.
  4. We have to pay at least $12 per hour and provide housing to attract qualified people for these positions. All of our positions are full time. This means just the person who does most of the milking of the cows is going to cost us at least $30,000 per year, and there are many person hours that go into this operation other than milking cows.
  5. The new glass bottles we’ll be in – at least $2 per bottle.
  6. The bottle wash machine – at least $12,000.
  7. The bottle filling machine – at least $14,000.
  8. The list goes on. The infrastructure for a grade A facility is tremendous.

Sustainable farming is profitable farming. We cannot and will not underprice if you don’t want to see your rural landscape turn into housing tracts. You should be willing to support sustainable farms, which means milk that isn’t $3 per half gallon. It means eggs that aren’t $2.50 per dozen. It means beef on the hoof that is more than the live cattle futures prices by at least ten percent.

If you don’t want housing tracts everywhere, you have to be willing to NOT undercut your farmer by going the cheapest route. A good farmer, and we, will not underprice the products. Most milk on the grocery store shelf is producing a loss for the farmer and is putting him or her out of business. Sure you got milk cheaper than water, but that farm family went out of business and is joining you in your ‘burbs.

A fair wholesale price for certified organic (see our page at http://pleasantmeadowcreamery.com/certified-organic), grass-based milk, is going to be at least $4, and if you want it from a store, well they have to pay their employees, their cooler bills, their insurance, their this and their that, and we have to pay to get the milk to the stores. By the time you tack that on, you are at least 20 percent more for wholesale to retail, and dairy, frankly, has the lowest markup of most products in the modern grocery store.

If you’re thinking about driving to a “somewhat local” backyard or small scale farmer to get your $3 milk, consider the value of time and the cost of driving your vehicle. The federal vehicle mileage deduction rate isn’t between 50 and 55 cents per mile for nothing. It is that because it actually costs that to drive, when you consider repairs, fuel, depreciation, etc.

By the time you get that milk, have you really gotten it for $3, or is it now $4 or $5?

Please be willing to support sustainable family farms when they and we will not underprice. We are not trying to rip you off, and we certainly are not price gouging you. To start a new dairy, or many other types of farms, is five years of losses before the first miniscule profit shows up.

We appreciate your understanding that we will not underprice our products. Thank you for your support, and please support your local farms if you value what is good and right and good for you!

16 Dec

Manure spreading with Meyer V-Max

Manure Spreading with Meyer V-Max

This video shows how we do manure spreading with Meyer V-Max 2636 manure spreader.  We just bought this spreader this year and I am very pleased with its performance.  It uses 2 large augers on the bottom to push material to the back of the spreader.  The lift gate is hydraulically controlled and the beaters are vertically versus horizontally driven and are driven by large chains to the gear box.

It is very capacious – accepting over 10 cubic yards of material, and we have the short spreader compared to other Meyer products.  Further, the weight capacity is 24,000 pounds.  It is tandem axle with large turf tires to help eliminate compaction.  Of course, our main strategy to eliminate compaction is to spread when the ground is frozen.  This does not always happen though depending on if the snow comes before cold temperatures.

We stop adding to the manure pile in April and then we allow it to age and re-heap it occasionally during the summer months.  Spreading is usually done at the end of November or into the middle of December, which will allow a full six months of integration into the field before we are possibly coming along to produce a first cutting of haylage.

Here is how we compost the manure prior to spreading.  We essentially clean the barns daily and add to the pile and then wild turkeys work on the pile daily throughout the winter, turning it over and adding their own higher nitrogen manure to the mix.

 

29 Nov

Romans 8:19 through 25

“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body. For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it.”

What a glorious hope this is.  The creature here are all beasts, including dairy cows.  They suffer in this fallen world just as man does, but this verse says that they too wait for the redemption of the whole earth, and they too will be delivered from the bondage of corruption.  Wow.