High Grove Farm Journal – March 2022
Apr 05, 2022 (Westby, WI)
By Jessica Rogers
Hello from High Grove Dairy Farm!
Warmer daytime weather has our family enjoying the freedom to work outside without gloves, which is a great feeling after a long winter of bundling up! The nights are cold, so we’ve been burning wood to heat the house. With this warmer weather I decided to wash all the winter chore clothes and put them away, but we unfortunately had to dig out the hats again. Even with the cooler nights and snowstorms blowing through every once in a while, it is starting to look and feel more like spring each day!
The cows are just as excited for spring as we are. They’re sunbathing more and on warm days, and they’re able to venture down to parts of their pastures that they haven’t visited since last fall. The nice weather brings out the playfulness in the cows. You will often see a pair of them head-to-head, tails switching and hoofs clambering as they spin in a circle pushing and trying to figure out who is the strongest and queen of the cow yard! Their renewed energy and playfulness are all signs of happy cows.
Our two farm dogs, Roxy (an older dog who came with the farm) and Geronimo (a black lab puppy we brought home to the new farm last spring) have been busy at night barking at wildlife as it creeps closer to the buildings in search of easy pickings, a common occurrence in the country this time of the year. Just this morning while I was milking, I watched three coyotes wander from the woods and into the cow pasture across the ridge of our corn field with the cresting sun silhouetting their bodies as they trotted away from the noises of our farm work. A beautiful moment of nature to observe and still slightly unnerving thinking of how much our cows like to go to that far corner of the woods to calve.
The laying hens have a zest for spring like no other farm animal that I’ve seen – other than songbirds! Always on the hunt for finding the first bugs, the chickens are the happiest animal on our farm when winter is finally over, and I let them free-range. Our family reaps the benefits of their insatiable picking and scratching as we have more big brown eggs in the nesting boxes than we’ve had all winter.
Coaxed from its rest, the long rows of Winter Rye that run along the contours of some of our farm fields, are now beautiful green strips of new growth and are always one of the first vegetations to wake up each spring. The first green in the fields is undeniably a favorite of the local deer who stop each evening at dusk to fill their bellies. Soon the raccoons, possums and skunks will be venturing closer to the buildings and near my chicken coop. Part of evening chores includes locking up the hens for a safe night’s sleep.
Other animals are returning to the farm too. A week ago, we saw the first turkey vultures return to the area. They are a smart creature much like the wise population of Midwestern “snowbirds,” who move south to stay at their winter houses. Turkey vultures migrate to South America and Mexico and come back to this area only once winter has left. They’re attracted to pale and worn-out carcasses, like us dairy farmers after yet another endless Midwestern winter. We probably look like an appealing snack to them when they venture back to Wisconsin. Ha!
Despite the wonderful signs of winter’s end and spring’s beginning, rain and mud has made the month of March perhaps our worst month on the farm yet. Surprising? Those conditions create more havoc for chores and animals than the blistering cold and bleakness of January or February for us right now. You see, we are still getting this farm set up for dairy farming at the level of comfort for the cows and efficiency that we desire. We bought this place a year ago, but it hadn’t been a functioning farm for 20 years before us, so the infrastructure is worn-out.
Paths we drive each day on tractors and skid steers to get feed need to be built up and cow yards need to be concreted. The stones and gaps in the cow yards from old broken concrete can be hard on cow’s feet and is our biggest priority for upgrading right now. The mud is deep on the tractor paths and farmers around here deal with their fields being easy to get stuck in or easy to ruin if you are not careful to haul manure while the morning frost has the ground firm yet.
And then there is the barn cleaner that runs through the gutter to inside the barn that keeps breaking now. It is old and the spring rains have not been soaking into the ground because of the frost, which is adding to the already full gutters and putting more stress on the barn chain than it can sometimes handle. When it does break, it means you must roll up your sleeves and fix it in a gutter full of cow manure.
On top of seasonal conditions, there are many factors like rising fuel prices and high fertilizer prices that are impacting farmers and the decisions we are making on our farms and in our fields.
There is so much to be thankful for, and farming has always had its uncertainties from year to year. So as always, we will keep on going and working harder than ever to provide the best quality care for our cows and try to make smart decisions for our farm’s strong future. I hope you are enjoying the warmer weather. Happy springtime from our family to yours!
–Jessica Rogers is a Westby Creamery farmer-owner who is sharing glimpses of farm life with us.