Let not our hearts be troubled
Dave Vander Kooi, Making Cents of Dairy
We think we have it so bad. We worry about the world-changing virus, we worry about our aging parents, we worry about our busy adult kids, we worry about our free-range, not-in-school grandkids, and we worry about our crashing milk prices. Watching or reading the news overwhelms us into thinking it is the end of the world.
If this is the end of the world, how come I have eaten more delicious home cooked meals in the last week than I have in many moons? Right now, on this Thursday evening, we have leftover roast, meatloaf, baked potatoes to fry and fresh apple crisp in our refrigerator. My wife, daughters and daughter-in-law are all cooking up a storm, and I am the beneficiary. I admit to seeing my grandkids at their homes when they are outside playing in the fresh air, but I really try to limit my exposure to others. I have not even been in a grocery store since this all started. I try to go to the farm stores early in the morning after chores to get necessary supplies, because I figure there are less people buying dog food at that time of day, and the store is cleaner.
When I think about our ancestors and worry, I cannot help but think of all four of my grandparents emigrating from Holland through Ellis Island, not knowing the language, with only a piece of paper in their hand saying some relative from northwest Iowa had sponsored them to come and work as farmhands and housekeepers. One grandmother came from a well-to-do family in Holland that even had servants only to join her soon-to-be husband on a poor dirt road hog farm near Bigelow, Minnesota. Obviously my grandparents survived the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918, or I would not be here. I am sure the isolation of a southern Minnesota farm did not hurt their chances.
My parents became voting age at the beginning of World War II. Both of them had quit school during the ninth grade to help their parents on their respective farms. They met at a church gathering of teenagers from Worthington and Bigelow churches. My dad soon joined Merchant Marines and was stationed in New Jersey. On a long weekend furlough, he hitchhiked back to Minnesota, married my mother and took her on a train back to New Jersey. He then left her alone in a rented apartment while he sailed to Europe on a mission to bring back foreign war brides of U.S. soldiers. Fortunately, my mom found new friends through the church in New Jersey that gave her employment on their small farm. When the war ended, they returned to Minnesota and wanted to buy a farm. My grandfather had just died and left my grandmother with very little. She could only help my dad put a down payment on probably the worst, most rundown farm in Nobles County. From there, my dad made that place into one of the nicest 20-cow Grade A dairies in the area. My point in all this is how brave my parents were in adversity and times of worry.
Yes, I am worried about our cheese plant closing down because a worker may get sick; however, I worry more about our employees on our farm staying healthy. My thought process is we could dump milk for a month or two and survive the financial carnage of our cheese plant going down. It would be much harder to survive long term if we cannot keep 2,000 cows milked at least twice a day. Those cows would be ruined if not milked regularly. Granted we could lower protein and energy in the milk cow ration so they would give way less milk. We could milk the better cows two times per day and the lower end cows once a day, utilizing probably half the people we need now. We could also dry up many cows early in anticipation of better times ahead. I do not know how well cows in early lactation would respond to low input rations and then a ramp up again in 60 days. I think it would be generally a bad idea.
Will cheese consumption come to pre-pandemic levels in a few months? I do not know if restaurants can survive long enough to reopen. I do not know if people will consume the same equivalent of cheese at home. Personally, I eat less cheese at home because the meat quality at home is superior and does not need cheese to make it taste good. I will say our Godfather’s Pizza sales at our convenience store have been through the roof since the pandemic started. People still have cravings for their favorite food.
I know my mind has rambled through this article, but maybe your minds have been rambling a bit these past few weeks also. I leave you with this quote from Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.