I usually tend to reflect on the various changes we made on the farm at the end of the year; weighing the pros and cons of our adjustments. This year though, I realized the biggest transformation on the farm was me.

I admit, I have always enjoyed working with cattle because they can’t talk back, and my communication skills are a little shaky. So I have steered away from managing employees and focused on handling the cows. But 2017 was the year that forced me out of my comfort zone. 

It seemed from the start of the year that once again, we would struggle to progress. We jokingly commented on the dark cloud that seemed to loom right over the exact location of the farm. It appeared as though that cloud was here to stay. We wanted – better yet – needed something to change if we wanted to survive the year. 

Our first cloud was our transition cow program. So we zoned in and retrofitted our old bank barn into a pre-fresh facility that targeted cow comfort. Half of the barn is a bedded pack, the rest is deep-bedded freestalls. Our fresh cows are enjoying the benefits of having a relaxing dry period, and we were very pleased with the new addition.

Our next cloud was our upcoming overabundance of calves. We struggled with reproduction issues in the past, but bounced back in 2016. Therefore, we had a huge wave of cows that settled and were due to calve in a small window.


I began the year as our herdswoman and calf feeder, but it was time to give up a title. We hired a new calf feeder in the summer, and it was a great choice. Our calf program is succeeding beyond our expectations.

See the advice I gave here: My advice to our future calf feeder 

Unfortunately, our somatic cell [count] began to increase throughout the summer months, and milk quality became an issue. We focused on vaccinations, dry treatments, milk culturing (everything we could think of) and saw no progress. Our final cloud was employee management.

After losing one title, I quickly gained another: parlor manager. I began by getting to know our employees better. I figured out what hours fit their schedules best, I listened to their concerns and ideas, and I made myself available at all times. This was not easy for me. It required a lot of attention and a whole lot of patience. The employees needed more praise and positivity in the work environment. When I showed them how much I cared, they cared more about the work they were doing. Within a few months, our somatic cell issue dissipated, and we had an excellent team working hard toward the same goal.  

We made a few minor changes on the farm and will hopefully see the benefits. We are determined to get rid of that cloud and have a better year. 2017 was not an easy year by any measure. It started out incredible. With my new dairy princess title and a hefty workload, I was busy but content. As the year progressed, my stress levels and problems on the farm intensified, and I began to lose my passion. It took awhile to realize that I had burned myself out.

I took some time. I met some people who changed my life. I cried more than I knew I possibly could. I laughed until I was weak in the knees. I made some questionable choices and some great choices; both taught me valuable lessons. I learned how to appreciate people. I learned it’s the toughest moments that show us what we’re made of. I learned how to fight for myself. Most importantly, I learned it’s alright to get lost for a while, but passion never leaves you. It will shine through the darkest cloud.  end mark

Kelli Woodring