It just so happens that as dairy farmers we not only love our cows we also love all the delicious foods they give us! Really if you think about it it's pretty amazing what can be made from milk... cheese, yogurt, cream cheese, ice cream, cottage cheese, sour cream, cheese (I guess I already said that but there's SO many options I had to say it again!), butter, and of course, a cold glass of milk, and many, many others, not to mention all the variations on the above!
To switch it up a bit every so often I'm going to start sharing some of our household's favorite recipes that include yummy dairy products! Some will be long-standing family traditions, some new discoveries, and some menu mainstays, and all delicious!
** Warning: I'm not a food blogger.... So far I rarely remember to take a picture of the finished product let alone the whole process so you'll just have to imagine each step! I will give you some of my personal pointers & tips though!
First up is a new recipe to our family! My sister-in-law is a Pampered Chef consultant & over the years I've fallen in love their kitchen products! During a recent Facebook party this recipe popped up and I knew we had to try it! To make a long story short I came to own this amazingly beautiful LARGE round stone and my fridge just happened to be filled with cream cheese (this recipe's secret dairy ingredient!) and eggs, perfect for this brunch pizza!
I'm a pretty basic simple cook... not a lot of fancy ingredients around our house. But I do also like to start with real foods that aren't packaged or processed as much since they're both cheaper & better for you. So most recipes get a little tweaking!
For this I recipe I browned the sausage on the stove & then added some frozen peppers - I use frozen green peppers in all sorts of things! Next it took a few rounds in the microwave to smooth out the cream cheese & then we added farm fresh eggs from some friends, although we use store bought all the time too!
The trickiest part was cutting the biscuits horizontally - I used a big serrated bread knife. Honestly I rarely use pre-made refrigerated biscuits but it did make this recipe go faster & they are yummy! I used my super awesome Pampered Chef roller to squish the biscuits all together but I think a glass or your fingers would work just as well!
Then all that's left is sprinkling, pouring, a little more sprinkling. Now let's talk cheese for a moment. The original recipe called for provolone cheese but I'm not sure I've ever had provolone cheese in our house, so we used boring (and so delicious) ol' cheddar! Next it was stuck it in the oven and of course waited for it to come out! We'll be making it again for sure!
Saving Dan's health and body is one reason we "hired" Rita the robot to milk our cows but it's far from the only reason.
It turns out Rita knows each of our cows really, really well... but then again she only knows them like Amazon, Facebook, and your FitBit knows you, by your data.
Dan and his parents have always known each of their cows well; they are able to pick out which one is which just by looking at them (I almost always have look at the ear tag to know!) and they know their individual personalities and quirks. When they were milking the cows, and therefore seeing them, twice a day everyday Dan could usually tell if a cow was feeling sick or if there was another problem based on how much milk she made or if something seemed off with her milk but now, with Rita's help, he knows even more!
It's often said, "You can only manage what you can measure", and while management certainly encompasses more than measuring things, measuring certainly helps. With Rita's help Dan has many more measurements that allow him to manage & care for our cows much better than before! So how does Rita do it?
First each cow is fitted with their own "FitBit" RFID (radio frequency identification) tag, which if you remember didn't work when we first started! When each cow comes into the milking box Rita identifies who she is and decides what to do next. Depending on how long it's been since the last time she's visited, Rita either starts milking her or kicks her out to come back and try again later (sometimes they just want some cow treat!).
Then Rita starts cleaning the cow's teats to get her ready to milk. Another anatomy lesson for you... a cow's udder actually has four separate compartments, or quarters as they are appropriately called, that each have their own teat for the milk to come out of. So after Rita cleans those four teats, she attaches a milking cup to each teat individually to start milking. The amazing thing is that Rita then measures the flow of the milk from each quarter so she knows when to take each milking unit off (movie below) as well as measuring how long a cow has been milking from each quarter. She can also measuring the conductivity which is an indication of if an infection (like mastitis) is starting in that quarter. If anything seems out of the norm (shorter than normal milking time, lower overall milk given, higher than normal conductivity), Rita alerts Dan and he makes sure to check on that cow. In the past Dan had a general idea of how much milk a cow was making because it went into glass measuring jars before being transferred to the main cooling tank but now he knows exactly and is able to catch a variety of problems before they begin!
Another thing that the RFID "FitBit" does is measures the cows activity level... how much time she's lying down, walking around, or standing still. Why would we want to know that? Well, about every 3 weeks a cow's activity skyrockets which means she's ready to get pregnant or is "in heat". We can often see their elevated activity visually but if we miss it, or don't know exactly when it started or ended, Rita lets Dan know, which means he can help the cows get pregnant with more accuracy.
Not only does Rita measure how much milk each cows gives, she also gives each cow an individualized portion of cow treat/feed to eat while she's milking. When the cow leaves the box Rita can tell how much she ate (based on weight), so if she doesn't eat enough Rita alerts Dan and he checks up on her in case she's getting sick (you don't like eating when you're sick, right?).
Now Rita gives us all this data & more but it's still up to Dan to take the time to look, analyze, and act on the information that Rita is giving him to make the best decisions for each cow... does she need to get milked again because Rita missed a teat? does she have a hurt foot or a tummy ache & that's why she hasn't come to get milked yet? does she need more to eat in the robot because she's making so much milk? is today the day to try & get her pregnant again? and on and on...
It's really quite amazing how much information and data there can be, and now-a-days in most every field there's plenty of data. Dan's aunt visited two weeks ago and loved looking at all the data that Rita gives us because in her job at the Post Office she dealt with lots of data too. Although at the Post Office, instead of how much milk a cow makes, her data was how many pieces of mail got delivered or lost, how fast they got to their destination, and more.
Dan's parents have used computer programs to track the health & well-being of their cows for decades and we still track many of those things with Rita and her accompanying software (family history, birth & health records, production timelines, and more). But now we have even more data helping us know with more accuracy how each cow is doing, meaning we can care for each of them even better!
How does information & data help you get your job done better?
P.S... Guess what? We've been sharing our dairy life with you for a whole year now! Hope you've enjoyed the journey as much as we have. Make sure to stick around because we're just getting started both in the barn and on the blog!
She's been hard at work for almost 3 months now doing the same thing over and over and over and over and... well, you get the idea.
And really that's the perfect job for a robot to do.
So why do we have Rita milking our cows? Let's take a little trip back in time to answer that question, shall we?
According to Dan's grandfather, 125 years ago when Dan's great-great-grandma wanted milk to feed her growing family she headed out with a pitcher in hand to their cow, that's right, one cow. Holding the pitcher in one hand she milked the cow with the other hand right into that pitcher and brought it in to be drank with dinner or churned into butter.
As the years went by, and the next generations came, a few more cows were born and eventually there was more milk than their family could drink and there were other families in the area who wanted that milk. So now instead of milking into the pitcher, they milked, still by hand, into metal milk cans. Typically they separated the cream from the skim milk right there on the farm. Then the hogs got the skim milk and the cream was picked up and hauled by horse & wagon to the local creamery to be made into butter. It turns out that it was actually Dan's great-great-grandfather Roy on the other side of his family tree that picked up cream from area farmers with his horses & cart (made into a sled in the winter) and brought it into the creamery.
As time continued to go by more and more families decided it wasn't practical for them to own and milk a cow but still wanted to give their family milky goodness. At the same time new technologies were being invented that allowed Dan's great-grandpa to milk more cows in a shorter amount of time, meaning he could provide more families with more milk!
Dan's grandfather, Neil, remembers when their first two automatic milking machines arrived sometime in the mid-1940's. He was a little boy and his dad, Adlai, was pretty skeptical. He made sure to keep the shipping crate around for awhile, "Just in case it doesn't work" as Neil remember's him saying. But work it did and our family hasn't looked back since. Twice a day Adlai moved those two milking machines from cow to cow until he'd milked all 17 cows, the number of stalls in the original barn. The milk still headed into metal milk cans and then was either picked up or taken to the local creamery.
Now for a little anatomy lesson... milk comes out of a cow's teats from their udder which happens to be located on the underside of their belly. What does that mean if you're milking a cow? Well Dan's great-great grandmother probably just bent over or squatted down for the few minutes it took her to get enough milk for her family but as more and more cows were being milked it mean more time bent over, squatting, or on your knees. And if you've ever spent much time bent over, squatted down, or on your knees it can take a toll on your body - especially if you're doing it over and over again twice a day every day. So technology continued to evolve...
As more and more people wanted to buy milk and dairy products at the store instead of milking a cow themselves everyday, Dan's dad, Dave realized he would need to milk even more cows making even more milk in a shorter amount of time ('cause we all only have 24 hours in a day!). So in 1979 he and Pam built a new barn and a milking parlor, the room the cows visited twice a day to get milked. The milking parlor had four milking units allowing four cows to be milked at one time and four more getting read to be milked on the other side.
The other advantage of the new parlor? Well, in the middle the floor was dug out lower, meaning no more bending, squatting, or kneeling to put the milking machine on the cows teats, leading to less back and knee problems. But Dan's parents and then Dan still had to prepare each cow to get milked and then put on and take off the milking unit of each cow, which meant rotating your arm in and out 3-4 times for 70 cows 2 times a day or over 450 times a day every day of the year. That's a lot the same repetitive motion often resulting in things like tennis elbow and contributing to arthritis.
And that's one of the reasons Rita the robot has joined the farm.
It turns out the Rita can do that repetitive motion of preparing the cows for milking and attaching the milkers over and over again without significant harm to herself and if she does "get sick" or break down we don't have to go to the doctor, prepare for weeks off after surgery, or try a variety of medications, we just fix her and get back milking the cows.
Now there's actually lots of other reasons too... Dan has more time to oversee and care for the cows instead of spending most of his time just milking them; Rita can give us more information about each cow and her well-being than we'd ever be able to know without her; she doesn't have attitude problems or forget to show up to work; the cows actually like the consistency of being milked the same way every single time and more but I think I'll cover those another day.
What parts of your job have been automated over the past 100 years?
Seven & a half weeks ago the cows moved into their new home... and now we're finally home too - right next door!
Saturday was moving day.... here are the pictures of the Guest House ready for us to move in! (remember to click the pictures to get the whole picture)
And thanks to friends & family all of our stuff is now here and we can start living together as a family again!
Today was great because we were able to see Dan so much more! He could step in for a quick update and say hi or read a book or eat lunch or tuck the kids into bed.
The kids might say the best part was after playing in the mud while I was organize the porch before the blizzard comes they got to continue in their dirty state by helping daddy in the barn. The best part for me? Getting to strip off their outside layer after spraying them off in the calf care room, then stripping off the inside (still dirty!) layer in the mudroom/office and heading right inside to a nice warm bath.
Since working together & having fun together is one of the main things we value (remember that post?) we're so glad our hard work has paid off and we're all together again!
Don't worry there's still plenty of hard work ahead (I mean look at all the unpacking I still have left... that's real life!) but now we can do it together and truly start to enjoy the flexibility that having Rita the robot milk our cows for us brings!
Plus now that we're living so close to the cows you should hear from me a bit more often about what's happening on the farm! I've got all sorts of ideas and plans up my sleeve for this year!
Well, honestly, we'll probably stop counting the weeks pretty soon. Today marks 3 weeks since the cows moved into their new home - 3 very INTENSE weeks! We knew it was coming... we'd been told. But living through it is another matter!
I've been told that in disaster response there is 3 days of immediate, intense relief efforts, 3 weeks of continued relief efforts, 3 months of recovery efforts, and then 3 years of rebuilding. And I think in a lot of major changes, such as starting a new robotic dairy barn, this holds true as well.
3 days of ADRENALINE
3 weeks of INTENSITY
and we're moving on to
3 months of ADJUSTMENT and finally
3 years to NORMALCY!
On December 9th the cows literally followed Dan into the barn - if you haven't seen the movie, check it out! We had a great big crew of family, friends, & neighbors assembled who used their vehicles & bodies as fences to guide the cows into their new home!
And then the fun started... we got the first cow, Meramet, into the robot box. Dan's mom, Pam bought her great-great-great-great-great-great (you get the idea) grandma when she was in 5th grade and her cow family line has stayed in the family ever since. Dan's grandpa milked Meramet's ancestors and now he would be the first to milk her in the new barn!
But wait... it didn't read her leg band which gives out a radio frequency telling the robot who she is (important in robotic milking!). We'd done practice runs but now the time had come and it wasn't working... disappointment and scrambles abounded. We had to get it fixed because we sure weren't taking them back down to the old barn!
Thankfully we had great tech support from AMS Galaxy on the ground who had dealt with this before. After switching about everything imaginable on and off we found the problem... the well. If the well pump breaker was turned on the robot couldn't read which cow had just come in. So now we had a new problem because water's kind of important for drinking and cleaning and all sorts of other things.
Eventually we figured out it only needed to be off for the cow's first 10 seconds in the milking box to be read. So until we got it fixed a week and a half later (yes, a week and a half of phone calls, fix-it attempts, and parts ordered) we and all of our amazing help ran back and forth turning on and off the well pump breaker switch.
In the end Meramet didn't get to be the first cow milked, the importance of nostalgia slipped away so we could finally just get started!
Since then 3 weeks have flown by with Dan rarely leaving the barn (he has a bed in the upstairs walk-in closet), Christmas celebrated a bit differently than we imagined, support & help from wonderful family, friends, and neighbors, and cows that are starting to adjust. They say it takes humans 30 days to form a new habit and cows are no different. Eventually they should almost all decide to go get milked by themselves but for now each day a few more figure out they don't have to wait for Dan to come get them to get milked, they can just go!
There are more stories I could tell - how once we finally got everything figured out and were ready to milk a cow, Dan's Grandpa Pete leaned in to start getting the cow ready to be milked and with the bill of his hat hit the button that kicked her out of the milking box; how we've had lots friends & family stop by to check it out; how in the midst of frustration Dan erased the feed pushers route; how my mom showed up just in time for me to get violently sick for a day; how one of our little Jersey's was able to jump in (and then out) of the robot arm area in between the milking boxes; how we've had 3 heifers born in the new barn; how Secret Santas brought us treats & goodies; and how even though these last 3 weeks have been intense, we've had fun, been blessed, and are so thankful that after years of planning, preparing, and building we're actually milking cows!
Happy New Year!
Growing up a city-girl, after marrying my dairy farmer husband and spending a few years abroad, we came home to expand the family dairy farm and want to share our journey & farm life with you!